A Facebook post by the Auckland Council’s tourism arm encouraging people to hike in the Waitākere Ranges is another example of the council’s mixed messaging on the kauri dieback.
Waitangi Day: the annual acknowledgement of the partnership Māori and the Crown entered in 1840. On the same day, the Auckland Council did its best to jeopardise its partnership with local Māori, and negate the rāhui placed on the Waitākere Ranges by local iwi Te Kawarau-a-Maki which was designed to stop the spread of kauri dieback in their forests.
On the “What’s on in Auckland” Facebook page, part of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), an Auckland Council-controlled organisation, a post asked “Who’s up for a Waitangi Day trip?”. The suggested location was the Kitekite track in the heart of the Waitākere Ranges, and its short walk to the Kitekite falls. The post suggested taking your togs for a swim, packing a picnic, and hiking to the top of the falls for a view of the forest. It didn’t mention the rāhui or kauri dieback and how those using the track can prevent it spreading.
According to ATEED, the Facebook post was a mistake, created and published by an agency contracted by the organisation to help manage its social media. The post has now been removed and replaced with an apology.
“Unfortunately a pre-scheduled post on the Ranges appeared on the ‘What’s On In Auckland’ Facebook page, which is currently managed by a third party on our behalf. We have since removed this post and are taking steps to ensure this will not happen again, and apologise unreservedly for this error,” Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development general manager, destination, Steve Armitage said in a statement to The Spinoff.
“We are abundantly aware of the devastation kauri dieback disease is having on the park and ever since the rahui was placed on the Waitakere Ranges have taken a number of steps to ensure we respect the wishes of Te Kawerau a Maki.”
ATEED’s Facebook fail is another example of the council’s bungled communication around the best way to stop the spread of the currently incurable disease. Massive confusion has been created by the council’s rejection of the rāhui’s complete quarantine of the Waitākere from human use. ATEED says it respects the rāhui, but the council won’t enforce it.
The rāhui is supported by much of the Waitākere community and the post was quickly criticised by Facebook users. The rāhui is endorsed by the Tree Council, Forest & Bird, the Independent Māori Statutory Board and Te Tira Whakamātaki – The Māori Biosecurity Network.
Even the council’s website says it “supports the principles of the rāhui”. But in December the council’s Environment and Community Committee chose to reject the official endorsement of the rāhui and instead close a limited number of high-risk tracks.
The social media error was indicative of the council’s greater communications failure around the state of the Waitakere Ranges, said Te Kawerau a Maki executive manager Edward Ashby on RNZ this morning.
“A lot of the common questions, or observations rather, are, ‘Oh, there’s a rāhui on but this track and that tracks open so we thought that was fine. So there’s essentially council taking a track approach and we’re taking a forest approach and the two apparently don’t meet. There’s are an awful lot of people that are not respecting the rāhui, that are entering the forest, and in fact there are still people entering currently closed tracks as well. So it’s a social culture change, or behaviour change that needs to happen and that’s very hard unless we have a very organised communications strategy,” Ashby said.
Despite the council’s closure of 44 tracks people are still using prohibited parts of the Waitākere. Video monitoring revealed trampers walking right past the signs at the entry to closed tracks. The Herald reported on thousands of people who ignored the rāhui or didn’t know about it, and few chose to change their plans for a day in the ranges after they were told about it.
There is significant confusion about the difference between the rāhui and the council’s restrictions, where each applies, and why the rāhui isn’t endorsed by the council. Yesterday, Waitangi Day, The Spinoff spoke to walkers on Beveridge Track, which is off limits under the rāhui but open according to the council’s restrictions. None of them knew the track was closed under the iwi mandate. They’d heard of the rāhui but had seen no information around the track to let them know it was under restriction. They said they wanted to observe the rāhui, but didn’t know where to start.
While the track to the Kitekite falls is not one of those closed by the council, it is covered by the rāhui, and there are a number of of kauri trees on the track. As an easy 1.8km walk on a well maintained track with a waterfall at its end, it’s an incredibly popular track. In January it was estimated that at least 500 people were using the Kitekite track every day, according to RNZ. It’s a well formed track and as part of the council’s $150,000 upgrade to stop dieback spreading it’s had a new walk-through boot cleaning station installed.
Some Māori believe the council’s decision to not back the rahui was one of cultural arrogance than of logistical difficulty. “The decision to not support the rāhui can be viewed as evidence that Māori practices of environmental management are not seen as equal to those that come from non-Māori New Zealanders,” Melanie Mark-Shadbolt and Dr James Ataria wrote on The Spinoff.
The council’s approach is contradictory. ATEED’s follow-up apology post says “we absolutely respect the significance of the rahui and the measures Auckland Council is taking to stop the spread of this incurable disease. There are still lots of places you can go walking in the bush Auckland.” But at the same time as unreservedly apologising for encouraging people to visit the Waitākere, the council refuses to discourage visitors by taking popular walks like the Kitekite falls off the map for walkers. When the majority of the 250km of the forest’s walking tracks remain open, the people will keep coming.