Jobs at DOC: Clayson Howell—Science Advisor

Department of Conservation —  03/05/2013

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 Clayson Howell, a Science Advisor at DOC’s National Office.

Clayson holding young children, Charlotte and Blake, in a living room.

Clayson with his kids, Charlotte and Blake

At work

My job is to…

Conduct research and provide advice on weed ecology and control, especially wilding conifers.

At the moment I’m working on understanding native succession under pine trees, better ways to kill wilding pines, and a GPS unit that records the location and volume of herbicide applied.

The scariest DOC moment I’ve had so far is…

Dragging a sea lion corpse through the surf on a short-leash at Enderby Island. The remaining males were fighting over it and the vet and I were trying to do an autopsy. We later figured out the cause of death was likely to be trauma after a shark attack.

I then witnessed the shark eat another sea lion in very shallow water. My short 0:35 sec clip (below) now has quarter of a million hits. My apologies for the voice-over, I’m no David Attenborough!

Content warning: This clip contains some strong language

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is…

Not one person, but the people that make up the New Zealand Ecological Society. Collectively they are a wonderful bunch of clever, articulate and passionate New Zealanders who love telling stories about the amazing ecology of Aotearoa. This includes many current, former, and I hope future DOC staff.

On a personal note…

My stomping ground is…

Mckee Reserve in Ruby Bay, Nelson. A beautiful patch of remnant lowland bush that was literally over the back fence of my family home since I was six. It is the only significant piece of native bush between Nelson and the Abel Tasman. It contains several large matai trees and the biggest lancewood I’ve ever seen.

In my spare time I…

Cram in as many activities as possible. Lately this involves looking after my two kids on Fridays, as well as gardening, freediving, brewing beer and playing football. Before the kids came along I did a fair bit of rock climbing and tramping, which I hope to crank back up in the next few years.

My secret indulgence is…

Mycophagy. It sounds dodgy, but it isn’t. My not so secret indulgence is making and eating pizza in the oven I built.

Clayson cooking pizza in the pizza oven he built.

Clayson cooking pizza in the pizza oven he built

My greatest sporting moment was when…

I climbed a rock called tombstone (Matukituki) in a plaster cast after I broke my ankle on the first day of a climbing trip. Or possibly when I steered the DOC dragon boat to victory in the social grand-final.

Rock climbing with leg in cast.

Climbing toombstone

Most people don’t know that I…

Once dressed up in a Lycra French maid outfit to count sea lions on Christmas Day…

Clayson's Christmas Day French maid outfit.

Clayson’s Christmas Day French maid outfit

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is…

“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…

Always look a gift horse in the mouth.

In work and life I am motivated by…

People who form opinions and change their minds based on data, not pre-conceived ideas or faith.

Sweeping the Doctopus dragon boat.

Sweeping the Doctopus dragon boat

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is…

Spend time outside, weed your garden, don’t be afraid to use herbicide carefully, support research to find ways of doing things better.

What story does your family always tell about you?

There are so many. This is probably my mum’s favourite…

As a small child I got lost at the Kaiteriteri Campground. It was the end of the summer and I was quite tanned. In between sobs I managed to get out that my name was Clay – son. The announcement over the camp loud speaker was that a small part-Chinese boy was lost. By the time my parents realised that I was missing from the roving band of kids, deduced that it was plausible that I could be mistaken for being part-Chinese, and got to the camp office – I was happily eating chips…

3 responses to Jobs at DOC: Clayson Howell—Science Advisor

  1. 

    I’m glad that I am no longer Science Manager for the Sea Lion Programme. I can imagine the “please explain in triplicate in writing sworn in front of a JP” that would have descended from on high from the politically correct and the safety police if it had been known that you were cavorting in a French maid’s outfit more than a metre off the ground at Enderby. Charlotte and Blake look lovely. Congratulations.

  2. 

    Go Clayton! The “Consol list of env weeds in NZ” that you compiled is almost my constant companion (oh, as well as my partner Megan of course!).

    I have set up a project on wildings at NatureWatch. See http://naturewatch.org.nz/projects/wilding-conifers-wilding-pines

  3. 
    mike Howell 06/05/2013 at 1:44 pm

    Isnt it strange how fate works… Clayson was mistaken for being part Chinese when he was lost as a little boy,,, now look at his lovely kids.