Jobs at DOC: Dean Nelson – Programme Manager

Department of Conservation —  07/12/2012

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Dean Nelson, Programme Manager – Biodiversity Assets.

Name: Dean Nelson.

Position: Programme Manager Biodiversity Assets, Twizel Te Manahuna Area Office.

Dean Nelson sitting on top of the Dalser Pinnacles.

Lunch on the summit of Dasler Pinnacles, Hopkins Valley—Mt Ward in the background

At work

What kind of things do you do in your role?

I primarily manage the staff and the resources involved in undertaking the Biodiversity Assets programmes in the Twizel and Aoraki Areas. The key one is the kaki/black stilt recovery project and the associated Tasman predator control programme, but there are numerous others involving plants, fish, lizards and invertebrates. Examples include the delightfully named ‘fish guts’ plant (yes it smells), a fish only found in the Mackenzie Basin called bignose galaxiid (it has a bulbous ‘nose’) and the recently rediscovered knobbled weevil which hadn’t been seen since the 1920s.

Occasionally I still manage to get out in the field when the team needs someone to help out with bird surveys or something similar. I also enjoy doing a bit of fish work where we are having some excellent results with using weirs as trout barriers to protect the bignose and lowland longjaw galaxiids.

What is the best part about your job?

Working with some incredibly dedicated people who never stop trying despite everything that gets thrown at them. Also the chance to work with some really cool species and visit some stunning places.

What is the hardest part about your job?

Dealing with some of the decisions being made by people further up the line who seem to have a relatively limited grasp of the reality of operating at an area level.

What led you to your role in DOC?

I did the old Parks and Recreation Diploma at Lincoln College (now University) and got a job as a Park Assistant at Makarora where I had spent some of my practical year. Not long after I was offered a ranger job at Mount Cook National Park – this was back in the Department of Lands and Survey days. After about seven years of doing all sorts of stuff, I shifted to Dunedin in the middle of the 1989/90 yellow-eyed penguin population crash and got thrown into hand rearing orphaned chicks which led to the species management work I had always been keen to do.

Checking for a transponder in a yellow-eyed penguin on Whenua Hou Codfish Island

Checking for a transponder in a yellow-eyed penguin on Whenua Hou Codfish Island

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

A trip to Whenua Hou/Codfish Island to resurvey the yellow-eyed penguin population which is declining for some reason. This is my fifth trip to the island for penguin work and it is a very special little haven for biodiversity. I’ve been fortunate to have a few kākāpō encounters, including having Sirocco do his thing on my head—a painful experience. Have also met and worked with some special people down there.

I wrote a diary (probably should call it a blog or something these days) of this trip which was organised by the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust.

The rule of 3…

3 loves

  1. My family.
  2. Getting into the outdoors, walking, tramping, hunting, mountain biking, fishing …whatever it is as long as it’s away from built up areas.
  3. Holidays which generally involve the above two. I think it is really important to give the kids adventures and experiences that they will remember and treasure.
Family adventures. Arriving at Saxon Hut on the Heaphy Track

Family adventures. Arriving at Saxon Hut on the Heaphy Track

3 pet peeves

  1. Idiots who think that it is entirely appropriate to take their 4WD wherever they can, regardless of the damage it causes or the impacts it has on wildlife.
  2. So much of our beautiful Mackenzie Basin disappearing under pivot irrigators.
  3. The habit/fashion (whatever you want to call it) that people have of wearing their pants at half mast, exposing undies, boxers and/or bits of their anatomy that shouldn’t be seen.

3 foods

  1. Tasman Bay scallops fresh out of the water and quickly fried in a wee bit of butter – melt in your mouth, but unfortunately a bit of a distant memory now!
  2. Crunchy peanut butter and honey, spread thickly together on warm toast.
  3. Good quality boutique brewery beers – we have got some stunners down south but sadly, Emersons has sold out to Lion. Hopefully it won’t affect the quality and variety of the beer!

3 favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Totaranui – I holidayed there as a kid for many years and we are now going back as a family.
  2. Nelson Lakes – my tramping playground as a teenager. Beautiful valleys, easy tops and the best shingle screes to run down anywhere in the country.
  3. Any backcountry hut at the end of a hard day’s tramping with the trusty pit laid out on a bunk and a brew on.
Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui

Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui

Favourite movie, album, book

  • Movie: showing my age here—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A classic.
  • Album: Pink Floyd—Wish You Were Here
  • Book: there are heaps of books which could fit the bill however, for someone who has done a wee bit of climbing, an excellent read is ‘Savage Arena’ by Joe Tasker. He delivered the manuscript of this book on the eve of his departure for the British Everest Expedition 1982 where he lost his life. A dramatic tale from a guy who lived life on the edge. “Every step was dogged by a presentiment of catastrophe, as if, out of the mists above, a white wave of death would engulf us.”

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Get out and do it—you are a long time old and decrepit or even worse—dead.

Who or what inspires you and why?

Our rangers. They are our unsung heros at the bottom of the heap, paid peanuts but they do some stunning work.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a kid, the usual list of suspects, but then in the third form at college, a mate and I wanted to be marine biologists. He is—working for NIWA—and I guess I ended up on terrestrial stuff.

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

I’ve always had a hankering to be a helicopter pilot or failing that, a photographer for National Geographic.

Talking to Otago University Wildlife Management Diploma Students about threatened fish and the trout barrier we are using to protect them

Talking to Otago University Wildlife Management Diploma Students about threatened fish and the trout barrier we are using to protect them

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Turn down the thermostat on the hot water cylinder by a couple of degrees—they are often set too high. I’ve done it a couple of times and my wife who loves her hot showers hasn’t squealed yet.

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Get the compost working better and grow more veggies.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

There are a whole lot of them that I really admire—the diminutive wee rock wren, the fearless falcon (I saw one trying to attack an Iroquois helicopter that came too close to its nest) the melodious kaka – the list is endless. However, imagine going back in time and being Harpagornis/Haast’s eagle. Now that would be something.