Jobs at DOC: Bruce Vander Lee, Improvement Manager

Department of Conservation —  11/12/2015

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 Bruce Vander Lee, Improvement Manager in Nelson.

At work…

Bruce Vander Lee.

Bruce Vander Lee

The key focus of my job is to:

Support the Operations Director to deliver more conservation in the Northern South Island Region.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Finding the best ways for DOC to do the right work at the right place in the best way, and supporting others to do the same.

The best bit about my job is:

I get to work with a variety of passionate and motivated people who are focused on conservation outcomes, and hopefully I am able to help them to achieve even more! As Improvement Manager, I rely on others to help solve critical issues, and I’m constantly amazed by the knowledge, skills, and creativity of people working in DOC.

Crossing the Waiohine River to monitor short-tailed bats in the Tararuas.

Crossing the Waiohine River to monitor short-tailed bats in the Tararuas

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

There are many, and I am meeting more all the time in my new role. If I have to choose one, I’ll say Martin Kessick, because of his ability to get his mind around really complex issues and work with others to find solutions. I was also surprised to find he is a very strong paddler in the front of a kayak!

On a personal note…

My happy place is:

On days I don’t commute via bike, I use the time to take our cocker spaniel for a walk along the Ruby Bay beach. Looking across Tasman Bay to D’Urville Island and the Richmond Ranges is a great way to start the day.

Dog Cricket enjoying the beach.

Our dog Cricket enjoying the beach (he didn’t dig that hole!)

If I could trade places with any other person for a week—famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional—it would be:

I think it would have been interesting to be part of the Lewis and Clark expedition as they explored what is now the western portion of the United States. The native flora and fauna they observed and described during the trip was pretty spectacular.

My best ever holiday was:

I think the next one is always the best!  However, I recently spent five weeks cycle touring from Anchorage, Alaska to Vancouver, British Columbia via the Yukon. It is a part of the world I’ve always wanted to see and I enjoyed seeing it via my bike.

Sunrise on top of Mount Rintoul.

Sunrise on top of Mount Rintoul


My greatest sporting moment was when: 

I managed to knock in a hole-in-one at the Fisher Grove Country Club in South Dakota while I was in college. It will continue to be my greatest moment until my older brother manages it; then I’ll have to find a new one.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be:

I would be a kākā, so I would always have a keen sense of curiosity and be able to get away with consistent ‘cheekiness’.

On the Top of the World Highway heading towards Dawson City, Yukon.

On the Top of the World Highway heading towards Dawson City, Yukon

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” ― Aldo Leopold

I read this when I was relatively young and it inspired a real ecological curiosity in me.

Bruce kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park.

Paddling (sailing?) in Abel Tasman

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

“The only constant in life is change” – originally from Heraclitus but said to me by my boss early in my career. I think it has allowed me to embrace change as opportunity, rather than resisting it.

Overlooking Totoranui, Abel Tasman.

Overlooking Totoranui, Abel Tasman

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Just to get out and do something that is important to you. It may seem small, or only be as far as your backyard, but who knows where it might lead?