Jobs at DOC: Daniel Lee, Rakiura/Stewart Island Ranger

Department of Conservation —  31/01/2014

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 Daniel Lee, Conservation Services Ranger, Rakiura/Stewart Island.

The stunning view from Rocky mountain.

The stunning view from Rocky Mountain across to Mason Bay

At work

Dan Lee filling bait stations.

A little breezy and damp on Rakeahua while filling bait stations

Some things I do in my job include… maintaining the tracks and huts around the island, setting bait stations for pests, fighting weeds, and talking to trampers and visitors in the field about the island, and the work we are doing.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision because… I recently had a tramper tell me how Mason Bay was looking much better compared to eight years ago, as a result of the Marram Grass eradication project going on. When people see the work we are doing, and we can show or explain the benefits of the work, and the difference it is making to Stewart Island and beyond, we are helping to spread that message.

The best bit about my job is… talking to the visitors from all over the world. Everyone I meet is so keen to learn about what is going on. Stewart Island is a long way to come for a visit and so it’s a great feeling to be able to share my knowledge of ecology and conservation with them to improve their experience here.

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is… doing some weed control work and seal sampling on Codfish Island and Tim, the kākāpō ranger, offered to take us around and show us his work as he carried out some health checks. We found Pearl, a female kākāpō, after a long crawl through the bush and as she seemed in no distress, I was able to hold her. Even working for DOC, opportunities like this do not come around often and so I count myself very lucky indeed! They are such beautiful birds up close, and whole experience for me was both very humbling and motivational at the same time.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… a hard question to answer, as everyone I work with has a genuine passion for the work they do, for them it’s not just a place to come to earn a salary, the motivation of doing some good work drives them on and inspires others. If I had to single out people it would be the volunteers that come through, either as long term placements, hut wardens or working parties. It’s a big ask to give up your time for free, and seeing them all get enjoyment from just being here and being a part of conservation inspires me, every time I’m asked: ‘Are you a volunteer?’ to always reply with: ‘No, I’m merely a paid employee’.

On a personal note…

Dan Lee and Pearl the kakapo.

Me and Pearl the kākāpō on our first date!

The song that always cheers me up is… I love music! I’ll listen to almost anything, from Queens of the Stone Age when marching up all these hills on the island, to Cannonball Adderly’s amazing sax licks, but I think the one song I love sitting down at the end of any day, and always seems to fit any mood is Let The Good Times Roll, by Louis Jordan.

My stomping ground is… I’m from the south coast in the UK, and so I grew up exploring the chalky South Downs, and the wealds of Kent. A little older but no more grown up, the Cornish coastline and Dartmoor National Park became a favourite haunt for wild camping, despite the stories of real life Baskerville hounds roaming the Tors!

My best holiday was… spending two months in Borneo volunteering with various projects for education, building schools, and reclaiming native forest from palm oil plantations. I loved every minute of it, from working alongside the Malay communities, overcoming the language barrier with sport, work and rice wine, to climbing the mountain, diving, and getting chased by a pygmy elephant. It was also the one and only time I had ever seen an elusive kingfisher.

In my spare time I… like to dabble in all sorts, a bit of watercolour painting, learning the blues saxophone, and taking advantage of what the island has to offer. It’s great fishing down here and getting a feed of blue cod, mussels and paua takes no time at all. I also like to get to the mainland when I can—for a busman’s holiday, exploring some new frontier of wilderness.

Before working at DOC I… spent the last three years studying Environmental Management at Plymouth Uni in the UK. Before that I was a qualified gas engineer, installing central heating systems, gas appliances, and general plumbing work, and carrying out landlord safety checks for two years. Before that, I served seven years in Royal Navy submarines as a sonar operator, listening to all the noise the ocean makes, and being lucky enough to travel from the east coast of the States, to Singapore, and a fair few ports in between.

Deep and meaningful…

Track work on Rakiura.

Comradeship in the bush…. when the first fella finds a deep hole in the track, it’s only fair you all find it!

My favourite quote is… ‘You can’t solve problems with the same thinking you used to create them’ – Albert Einstein

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… things are never so bad they can’t be made worse. I cannot even remember where I heard that now, but its true, when things are going wrong you will never change anything unless you drag yourself out from under the duvet and find the positives in life!

In work and life I am motivated by… making a positive difference. I’m not talking on a global scale, not just yet anyway. I’m talking on a day to day basis, whether that be with my friends and family, through work, or to a complete stranger.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… get involved! Even if you have no time to help with a work day or a DOC event, you can still grab a few leaflets or search the web and read up about conservation issues here in New Zealand. Even by educating yourselves, you’re better equipped to spread the message and make people aware of just how important it is to keep this global bastion of natural beauty safe! That, and come to visit Stewart Island. It’s awesome.

Dan Lee at the summit of Mount Kinabalu.

At the summit of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

Question of the week…

If you could have a conversation with any native species, which species would that be? I would definitely like to spend the day conversing with an ancient kauri. I would ask it how it has seen the world change since it first started to grow. What it has seen and felt and what it thinks of the changes it has seen, and what it would like to see in the future. What does it think of humans and the impacts we have made. It would probably have some good advice, and a few thousand years old tree would have a few good tales to tell I’m sure!