Jobs at DOC: Greg Van Der Lee, Partnerships Ranger

Department of Conservation —  12/12/2014

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 Greg Van Der Lee, DOC Ranger in Hauraki.

Partnerships Ranger Greg Van Der Lee.

Greg Van Der Lee

Some things I do in my job include:

The work is so diverse. One minute I’m sending out emails to iwi for consultation on a wildlife permit and the next minute the phone rings, and I’m talking to someone in Dunedin about easements for a cycle way. I might be trying to write a request for proposal for land acquisition, and then my mate from down the hall asks for a map of historic land surveys in relation to a new hut.

I also help with Treaty settlements, the Fonterra partnership, concessions/permitting, and community groups…

I have had some victories! The recent funding round from the New Zealand Recreation Consortium saw all four of my community applicants receive grants. The work that these community groups are doing is amazing. If you want to get something done, give the job to passionate people. Then support them.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

DOC’s vision is huge. Engaging more people in some capacity is crucial to give ourselves some space to breathe. How we engage and manage the community enthusiasm is the trick. People want to help; we need to make it easier for them to get on with it.

The best bit about my job is:

I love that I can make a difference. I like making connections between corporations and community groups. I love giving support and encouragement to small groups and seeing the successful outcomes.

Greg walking home from a night at the Pinnacles Hut.

On the way home from a night at the Pinnacles Hut

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

I started in DOC as a goat hunter—hunting the western flank of the Coromandel Range in a team of four hunters. The terrain is fairly challenging, with some reasonably steep bits—just the sort of place goats flourish.

We were in the Opitonui catchment, not far from Castle Rock. I was onto a small mob and my dog was bailing nicely about 3 metres below me. I was standing on a small grassy knob and, as I tried to look over to get a shot, the whole lump of grass gave way.

I remember the tumble drier effect of the fall, and the wet nose of my faithful companion in my face after I landed.

I had the classic “my life flashed past my eyes!” moment, and wondered if “this it”. I lay there for a few moments—no pain—got up, cleared the barrel, looked back up the bluff and the goats were gone!

Not a method I recommend to get bluffed goats.

The DOC employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

There are actually two people that I need to mention here; Fin Buchanan and Gemma White.

Fin was the Programme Manager that hired me. I think the work he and Carol Nanning are doing with their dogs is amazing. Fin has always been ready to go the extra distance required to make advances for conservation. He puts a whole of life commitment to the cause. Even his time off is often spent up in the bush (ask him where he was last week).

Gemma White is probably the best boss I’ve ever had (next to my wife of course). I don’t know how she does all that comes across her desk.

If it was only the stuff at the office that got her attention, that would be enough, but weekends are not sacred, and then home life is interrupted by meetings out of district.

The effort she puts in is amazing, and it’s not all pure grunt. Her eye for detail is always catching me out. She demands a high standard, but has the patience to spend time with me to get across what she wants. I have learnt so much working with Gemma.

A small rainbow viewed from the front deck of Greg's house.

From the front deck of our house

On a personal note

Most people don’t know that:

I am Canadian. I immigrated to New Zealand in 1972 with the whole family. I grew up in South Auckland and fell in love with this country, and have only been back to Canada once.

The song that always cheers me up is:

My song of the season is, ‘Mary, did you know?’ by the Pentatonix. This song captures what Christmas means to me and this version has great harmonies.

My happy place is:

My farm! I live at Omahu Valley, right at the end of the formed road. I look out my dining room window at the Coromandel Forest Park rising above us into the clouds. I love the mist hanging in the trees and cloaking the hills.

Omahu Stream, about 500 metres upstream from Greg's house.

Omahu Stream, about 500 metres upstream from our house

If I could trade places with any other person for a week it would be:

I always wanted to be an explorer. Maybe Kupe or Captain James T Kirk.

My best ever holiday was:

Three months in Queensland, Australia, when I was young and foolish.

My greatest sporting moment was when:

I bowled a hat-trick for the ‘Get drunk on Sunday’ cricket team.

Greg preparing for an aerial bait drop.

Air operations at Papakai

Deep and meaningful

My favourite quote is:

I don’t know if it’s a quote, but I love to say “I told you so.” I don’t get to say it very often!

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

My dad said, “You don’t have to do very much more than everyone one else to really standout”.

In work and life I am motivated by:

My Christian faith

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Get off the couch, go outside and do something physical.

Great Mercury Island.

Great Mercury Island

Question of the week

If you were given the ability to compete in any Olympic event, what would you choose and why?

One of the shooting disciplines. I’m a pretty crack shot, and the high level training would suit me just fine. Shooting at that level is a very self aware and physically technical skill. I love the self discipline required to have your body completely relaxed, breathing and heartbeat synchronised, and timing the release. Once you get into that zone the rest of the world just disappears. It’s all about that tiny speck that is the very centre of the target.