BARE FEET ARE BEST
A heartfelt thank you to the Department of Conservation for removing the Trigene foot wash pad from the Tane Mahuta walkway in Waipoua Forest. The risk of damaging our most famous precious tree by contamination of its root zone. Trigene is a chemical known to have a devastating effect on micro-organisms such as those that maintain soil and root health, and we at the Waipoua Forest Trust are relieved that the threat to our taonga has been removed.
But: and it is a serious but, Waipoua’s future remains insecure until the Department of Conservation acknowledges that the use of such destructive chemicals in our conservation estate is contrary to the very concept of conservation. Trigene was designed as a surfacant for use in medical surgeries and laboratories to maintain sterile conditions, so its job is to destroy the very bacteria and other microbiota that are essential to a healthy soil. While it may sound like the perfect stuff with which to attack the fungus, Phytophthera agathidicida that causes Kauri Dieback, its effects on soil health are largely unknown, and what we do know make it not worth the risk.
Until our understanding of the entire kauri environment is greater than is currently the case in an area of science that is surprisingly bare of significant research over the last 150 years, our plea to those responsible is to take the safest option. And the safest option is to not use products that are unproven or whose effects are unknown in our conservation environments.
This is especially the case with Trigene, which can be assumed to be a threat to forest soil health and is ineffective against Phytophthera agathidicida. Research clearly shows that Trigene does not kill the oospores that spread Kauri Dieback during the summer months when visitor numbers in our forests are at their highest.
In the particular case of Tane Mahuta, there is no reason why visitors should not remove any footwear before embarking on the short boardwalk journey to the great tree and back. This greatly reduces that chance of spoors being spread into Tane Mahuta’s neighbourhood on shoes or boots.
Removal of footwear before entering sacred sites is acceptable within both Maori and Eastern Asian cultures, so there is little substance to arguments that bare feet will offend tourists who have invariably travelled far to visit Tane Mahuta and our other venerable trees. Some argue that to take your shoes off before an audience with a 2,500-year-old living icon is no more than due respect and would enhance the experience.
The culture of reaching for the poison gun in every environmental management case is well ingrained in the New Zealand psyche. It is time for the Department of Conservation to show leadership in changing that, by reverting to barefoot safety around Tane Mahuta.