By Lou Sanson, Director-General
Queen’s Birthday Honours
Congratulations to those recognised in this year’s honours list. Nine people were recognised for services to conservation and the environment this year, including two knighthoods. DOC has worked closely with many of those honoured and we recognise the significant contribution they have made to community conservation and conservation leadership in this country.
Te Whangai Trust recognised at the Green Ribbon Awards
Last week I attended the Green Ribbon Awards, jointly sponsored by the Ministry for the Environment and DOC. It was great to see Te Whangai Trust win the Supreme Award. When I visited the Trust, I was incredibly impressed by the work they’re doing to provide training and skills development for local people while growing conservation. Their work is a great example of the benefits that can be achieved when people and nature come together.
Also recognised at the awards was Air New Zealand for their sustainability strategy, which includes their partnership with DOC and the work we’ve done on species translocation, marine protected areas research and predator control.
Congratulations to all of this year’s award recipients and nominees – well deserved recognition.
60 years of service in Northern Abel Tasman
Last week I called in to our Takaka office and met Hugh Mytton, Pamela Mytton and Grant Goodall. Collectively they have nearly 60 years of knowledge and experience at Awaroa and Totaranui. Grant has run the Awaroa Hut for the past two decades while Hugh and Pam have run one of our most-loved campsites, Totaranui. This last summer has seen the busiest season ever with a 40% increase in visitors to Abel Tasman National Park (160,000 to 220,000 visitors). Dave Ross’s cafe at Kaiteriteri has been serving 2,000 coffees a day!
Hugh, Pam and Grant have done so much to create and enhance the Abel Tasman experience as they look after 30,000 campers at Totaranui a season and 15,000 Great Walk hikers at Awaroa Hut.
We are entering a new era in Abel Tasman with Project Janszoon, a $25 million project to bring birds back. Importantly Abel Tasman National Park is also a story of people – including the DOC people who have given years of their lives to help visitors experience a slice of heaven.
Celebrating the life of “Explorer Douglas”
Over Queen’s Birthday weekend, I joined a group of 340 people in Hokitika to celebrate the achievements of ‘Explorer Douglas’, who died 100 years ago this year.
Charlie Douglas explored and mapped much of South Westland’s rivers and mountains in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
He really was one of New Zealand’s most extraordinary explorers, surveyors and naturalists. He described forests and mountains teeming with bird life in South Westland in 1880 and wrote about the sad loss of our birds when stoats arrived in the area.
The birds were so plentiful that Charlie and his dog Betsy Jane lived on rice, kakapo, whio and weka. He described local Maori snaring up to 50 kaka an hour for food.
What was a celebration of Douglas’s life was also a celebration of conservation. First, the very public campaign to stop logging in Okarito in 1978; then the designation of Te Wahipounamu as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.
Today our work in South Westland, originally led through the efforts of Mike Slater and our West Coast staff, is an exemplar of our national programme of landscape-scale conservation. With 200,000 hectares under sustained predator control, we have seen the return of kiwi, the highest density of kaka in New Zealand, the highest numbers of mohua and one of the world’s major nature tourist attractions. The turnaround since 1996 has been quite remarkable.
All signs point to eradication of pest butterfly
In Nelson I met Michael Shepherd, manager of our Great White Butterfly Eradication Programme. Last week we terminated field work in the Nelson region because it looks like we have achieved our goal of eradicating this pest butterfly.
We have seen no new eggs or butterflies since December 2014 and are awaiting official confirmation of eradication from the Ministry for Primary Industries.
This is an incredible project that we achieved for $4.9 million, including support of $325,000 from MPI, $180,000 from Vegetables New Zealand and $370,000 from Ag Research.
Huge credit is due to Kerry Brown, Technical Advisor Threats, and Bruce Vander Lee, the programme’s first manager, who realised when the butterfly was first seen in 2010 that this could be a significant issue for New Zealand’s forage crops and 79 of our native brassica species.
At its peak in 2014 the team had 35 staff going door-to-door looking for eggs and caterpillars. One of their key innovations was the ‘$10 per butterfly’ bounty introduced during school holidays, to encourage kids in the community to report eggs or butterflies.
Our Geospatial Imaging Services team was a critical part of the success, tracking the 29,150 properties checked and 236,552 visits. And although there were a few dog incidents, no one was hurt during this massive field operation.
Technology also played a big part. Ranger Will Wragg invented a $20 electric butterfly lure, complete with fluttering wings, that was critical to the success of the project and our science team of Keith Broome and Dr Chris Green were also key players.
As far as we know this is the first butterfly eradication project in the world!
No more ants on Tiritiri Matangi
Chris Green has another achievement to celebrate this month. Tiritiri Matangi Island has been declared free of Argentine ants after passing the three year threshold to confirm eradication.
This pest poses a massive threat to our native species. They are a highly aggressive species that can kill baby birds and insects and eat the food native species need.
Chris – the ‘go to’ person in DOC for ants – has led the decade-long effort to eradicate them from the island and the lessons learned have already been used in other eradication projects overseas.
Well done Chris and team!
Returning nature to the Nelson region
In Nelson I spent time with Hudson Dodd, general manager of the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary; and David Butler, chair of the Sanctuary Trust.
Founding trustee David has devoted 15 years of hard work to constructing the second-biggest predator free fence in New Zealand, at 14.5 kilometres. He’s helped the project raise $4.7 million for the pest-proof fence and pest eradication project, as well as significant funding (around $300,000) from the DOC Community Fund for other key elements of developing the Sanctuary. They are also supported by a wide range of other donors including Nelson City Council, Tasman District Council, Rata Foundation, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment; and Ministry for the Environment.
They are now on track to eradicate all predators within the sanctuary in September/October this year.
The sanctuary will eventually expand over 700 hectares of former Nelson water reserve. They have a vision to engage people in nature and provide a tourism opportunity for the city similar to Zealandia. They already have over 400 volunteers and 100 school visits a year – a total of 3,000 children experiencing the Sanctuary.
The long-term plan is to nurture populations of tuatara, kaka, kiwi and whio and ultimately bring back seabirds to the high altitude forests.
Even more optimistically, just over the ridge, local man Don Sullivan believes he has recently seen a South Island kōkako – the grey ghost!
Streamlining our statutory processes
I recently visited Nelson with the PSA, where we met with the team working on simplifying DOC’s statutory processes, including permissions, statutory land management and RMA.
This ten-member team, led by Bruce Vander Lee, used Team Process to rapidly identify the root causes of frustrations with our current systems; and rapid prototyping to develop a new system design within 90 days.
The proposed system design would see simple decisions being codified and then managed through a transactional team, reducing repetition and time taken to do this type of work. More complicated and complex decisions will be lead by decision-makers at place, using team process to get input from the team before making a decision. Support and service teams will be critical to making this work well.
With our Permissions team processing around 1,000 new applications per year and invoicing $2.3 million in cost recovery and $15 million in crown revenue annually from these permissions, this system design could be a major improvement not only for staff but our customers and partners. The new design will be tested in at least one region in each of the South and North Islands and, if successful, would be rolled out nationwide.
This is also a great example of using staff that understand the problem to fix the problem – a core element of the High Performance Engagement approach we are working on with the PSA.