Every Monday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.
This week we meet Spatial Analyst, Richard Earl:
Research and Development Spatial Analyst.
What kind of things do you do in your role?
I drive a Geographic Information System (GIS), which is basically a computer mapping system. I model ecosystems and species distributions based on their known locations, and I also examine what Natural Heritage work DOC does and where.
Without good geographical information, DOC can’t necessarily make good decisions about where we put our effort, and with ever-lowering budgets, it’s crucial we put our effort (as efficiently as possible) into the most important places and species we have. Our work is in building that geographical information and helping to integrate it into national systems, and to analyse it and understand it. So, mostly it’s panning around in maps on the computer, manipulating the tables behind the spatial data that’s on the maps, setting the computer to run analyses, then producing maps and tables of information from those analyses to provide information to the people who need it. We turn data into information.
Also, sometimes I’m allowed out of my cage and I get to go to some amazing places to actually collect data—in the form of counting birds and checking traps and tracking tunnels and looking for radio tracked birds, but that’s only a couple of weeks a year, if I’m lucky.
What is the best part about your job?
I get to pan around the country looking at all our best spots (from above), perform interesting (and often challenging) analysis, and when I can get it—field work, usually counting birds in Fiordland.
What is the hardest part about your job?
That’s a tricky one. Because I enjoy my job so much nothing ever seems very hard, or it is hard, but I’m enjoying it, so… um… finding the time to get everything done?
What led you to your role in DOC?
I’ve always had a conservation bent, reflected in my university studies (Geography and Ecology undergrad, Environmental Science Masters) and involvement in environment groups and Trees For Canterbury (a charitable trust here in Christchurch—“growing trees and growing people”).
What was your highlight from the month just gone?
Working out time-saving ways of getting certain processes done, thereby getting through what would have been laborious work a lot quicker.
The rule of 3…
My family, mountain biking on sweet, sweet native forest single track, (actually, pretty much ANY single track), and gooood music (and good beer).
3 pet peeves
Idiots on the roads who have no respect for cyclists, ArcGIS crashing for no apparent reason, and the waste of resources I’m seeing every day as Christchurch is dismantled house by house with diggers ripping into houses that are full of beautiful native timbers that should be salvaged and reused.
3 things always in your fridge
Cheese, including standard blocks, parmesan, and often stinky blue ones. Beer, but only certain beers should be in the fridge, most good ones should just be in the cupboard. Pesto and/or hummus.
3 favourite places in New Zealand
So many, but… Banks Peninsula (in particular the few remaining forest remnants, the spectacular coastline, the family bach at Little Akaloa, and of course the beaches), Fiordland, Waitutu and Poteriteri in particular. Also, Takaka and its surrounds (especially the DOC houses at Totaranui and Collingwood) and the localities they allow access to.
Favourite movie, album, book
I cannot possibly narrow it to one of each, so…
Movie(s): Dead Man—pretty much all of Jim Jarmusch’s movies in fact, and the Coen Brothers’ too.
Album(s): They change every few months, but most recently Wooden Heart by Listener and Sit Down, Man by Das Racist. My favourite artists in general are Prefuse73, Joanna Newsom, Roots Manuva, Coco Rosie, Boards of Canada, Diplo, Grizzly Bear, Pavement, Sonic Youth and Ladi6 etc.
Book(s): It’s hard to narrow it to one book—most recently, my best read has to be It’s All About The Bike by Robert Penn. My favourite authors include Richard Brautigan, Iain M. Banks, Paul Theroux, Jared Diamond, Martin Amis, and I’m also an avid reader of graphic novels (yep, comics). My favourites includes The BPRD and Hellboy series, plus anything by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (two absolutely brilliant Brazilian brothers).
Deep and meaningful…
What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?
Don’t be such an idiot.
Who or what inspires you and why?
Uh oh, cheese alert 🙂 My Dad, because he’s just so damned knowledgeable in so many ways. My boys—their beautiful innocence inspires me to be a good person and to try my hardest to be a good role model to them. My partner Tracey, for being so amazing with our boys and for loving me. My workmates, each for their skills and knowledge that differ from mine. My boss Elaine, for just being so on to it, and John Leathwick who’s a bit of a guru in my profession (and I get to work with him!).
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?
Doing what I’m doing but not at DOC? Otherwise, a farmer, but not in the traditional sense… I envisage a self-sufficient permaculture farmlet with a backdrop of bush and perhaps a little forestry, with an integrated mountain bike park (also crossing into neighbouring lands seasonally). I’d grow food and maintain and ride and guide the trails. People would come to ride and we’d feed them really good food and maybe have some accommodation… possibly a small brewery too, crafting beer made from local malts and home-grown hops. I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?
If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?
Definitely a bird. Maybe kea or a kaka, or falcon, but I also love the passerines too. The parrots for their smarts and fun, the falcons for their sheer speed and skill in the air, all of them for the beauty of the environment they live in and their ability to get around that environment so effortlessly.
It always makes me jealous when I’m tromping through the undergrowth getting nowhere and they’re just cruising around up there laughing at me. Then again, a Hector’s Dolphin would be pretty cool too, or a fur seal…
What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?
Get out and enjoy it, treat it kindly and with respect, help out, plant more natives, kill some pests, and actively integrate New Zealand biodiversity back into your gardens and cities.