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Pacific News Minute: Iconic Trees of New Zealand Threatened by Fungal Disease

Sylvain Machefert / Symac
Wikimedia Commons

You’ve probably heard about Rapid ??hi?a Death, a fungal disease that threatens an iconic tree species here in Hawaii. But another fungal disease is threatening the majestic kauri trees of New Zealand.

2,500 years old, T?ne Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, stands more than 160 feet high, 45 feet across, and, by one estimate, six months away from a fatal infection. Other kauri trees just 200 feet from it are already infected.

The culprit is a pathogen that causes root rot; what’s called kauri dieback disease is almost always fatal. There is no cure. The victim is described as New Zealand’s most treasured tree. In an essay for the Guardian Australia, Eleanor Ainge Roy said the kauri is prized for its beauty, strength, and use in boats, carvings and buildings.

Since as little as a pinhead of infected soil can spread the disease, it can theoretically be transmitted by birds and pigs, but research suggests that its mainly spread by people.

Boot cleaning stations have been set up, but one report said 83 percent of hikers didn’t use them. Some forests have been closed, but prohibitions are widely ignored.

There’s some dispute on just how bad things are. Some experts warn that the kauri stands on the brink of extinction. Others scoff that such dire alarms are overblown. But it does looks like time may be running out for T?ne Mahuta.

Credit itravelNZ / Flickr
T?ne Mahuta

"T?ne is the nearest thing to a sentient being that we can measure time by,” Amanda Black of the Bioprotection Research Center at New Zealand’s Lincoln University told The Guardian.

“For Maori in particular,” she said, "it is their ancestor. For them to lose trees like that is equivalent to losing family members.”

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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