D-G Direct: Lou Sanson’s July update

Department of Conservation —  14/07/2014

By Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General

Lou Sanson, Director-General. Chief Executive Department of Conservation. Photo courtesy John Kirk-Anderson / The Press / Fairfax NZ.

Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General

Storm damage on Great Barrier Island / Aotea

Last weekend I visited Great Barrier Island / Aotea to investigate the damage to DOC facilities and the Aotea Track after recent storms.

It was heartbreaking to see so much damage done to the north of the island and the Aotea Track.

The Aotea Track is a major contributor to the tourism economy on Great Barrier Aotea, with 4,000 walkers a year visiting it since 2011 and using the new facilities at Mt Heale Hut.

We’ve also lost New Zealand’s biggest kauri dam—Kaiaraara Dam—which was 110 years old. There has been significant damage to campsites as well.

The Minister of Conservation visited Great Barrier Island on Friday (11 July) with Auckland Mayor Len Brown to look at a coordinated central and local government plan to fix the flood damage and bring tourism back.

I want to thank everyone who has given their time to help during this tough time. I also want to acknowledge the new partnership that has been developed with Fletcher’s Construction. They built one of the six bridges that were lost in the storm and are now working with us on how we can rebuild them.

West Coast windfall

Just before Easter the West Coast experienced one of its biggest ever storm events. Cyclone Ita saw 200,000 hectares of forest damaged and 20,000 hectares totally knocked down.

I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of DOC’s Buller/Kawatiri team, and chainsaw crews from around the country, who helped to clear windfall blocking tracks in the region. It’s a massive, difficult, and dangerous job, with work expected to go on until the end of July.

DOC staff have also been involved in progressing the new West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill, which will enable recovery of some of the high value native timber that was blown over.

Success at Karangahake Gorge

As part of my trip north, I was fortunate to visit Karangahake Gorge in Tauranga to see the new cycleway. This is New Zealand’s most successful cycleway, with close to 80,000 cyclists using it in the last year.

On my visit, I was pleased to catch up with Rangers Tawara Wilson, Warren Geraghty and Des Brownlee at Te Aroha.

Rangers Tawara Wilson, Warren Geraghty and Des Brownlee from the Services team at Te Aroha

Rangers Tawara Wilson, Warren Geraghty and Des Brownlee from the Services team at Te Aroha

I was impressed with the relationship being built between DOC and the Department of Corrections and the regular work being done, including those in periodic detention maintaining picnic facilities in the Gorge. It’s a long-standing partnership that works well.

Whale watching

Two weekends ago, while on leave, I caught up with Cook Strait whale project leader, Nadine Bott, volunteers and some original Perano whalers on Arapawa Island in the Tory Channel.

From left to right: Johnny Norton, Dave Rothschild, Tom Norton and Joe Heberley

From left to right: Johnny Norton, Dave Rothschild, Tom Norton and Joe Heberley

This month is peak humpback whale migration season in the Cook Strait, with whales making the trip from Antarctica to New Caledonia.

Nadine and the team report on whale numbers, and collect photo and biopsy samples. This helps us to determine where the whales are going and how they are recovering from virtual total destruction by whaling in the early 1960s.

It was awesome to see original Perano whalers: Joe Heberley, Tom and Johnny Norton and Ted, Ron and Peter Perano helping alongside DOC staff and volunteers, who were being trained in whale observation.

The work is funded through a partnership with OMV New Zealand Limited, who contribute $35,000 a year. The project also gets support from Canon NZ Ltd, Bell Tea NZ Ltd and Transact Management Ltd. It’s a great piece of work that is bringing together history, a commercial partnership and a really exciting research project.