D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson

Department of Conservation —  14/10/2016

By Lou Sanson, Director-General

Representing DOC at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)

From 21–23 September I represented DOC at the 27th SPREP meeting in Niue with one of our staff members, Huia Lloyd, who has been on secondment to SPREP’s head office in Samoa and was widely acknowledged for her work in setting up the Pacific’s largest workshop yet on invasive species.

We were able to present some of New Zealand’s stunning whale research from the last 12 months at an evening function co-hosted by DOC, MFAT and The Nature Conservancy. The event was held at the residence of Ross Ardern, the New Zealand High Commissioner, to celebrate the International Year of the Whale. Over 200 South Pacific environmental leaders attended including ministers and deputy prime ministers.

One of the most interesting presentations at SPREP was about a huge initiative to establish shark sanctuaries to protect sharks and rays in the Pacific. Six nations have now established sanctuaries encompassing an area twice the size of Australia. We were told some pacific sharks live to 280 years old. The real heavyweight though is the Greenland shark that lives up to 500 years with females reaching breeding age at 150 years!

Three D-Gs! From left: Lou Sanson; Dr Josie Tamate, Director-General of Natural Resources, Government of Niue; Kosi Latu, Director-General of SPREP; Huia Lloyd.

Three D-Gs! From left: Lou Sanson; Dr Josie Tamate, Director-General of Natural Resources, Government of Niue; Kosi Latu, Director-General of SPREP; Huia Lloyd

DOC/Air New Zealand Great Walks partnership expanded

Along with a number of our staff, I attended Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon’s sustainability breakfast in Auckland last week. At the breakfast he announced the expansion of the Air New Zealand Great Walks Biodiversity Project to include the Heaphy (Gouland Downs), Whanganui River Journey and Lake Waikaremoana Great Walks.

Working with iwi and Air New Zealand, we will be able to expand predator control on all three walks to protect native wildlife from the threat of introduced predators. We’ve already seen fantastic results from the biodiversity work done on the Milford and Routeburn tracks with Ngāi Tahu; and the Abel Tasman Coast Track with Manawhenua Ki Mohua.

We hope to see the strong return of wildlife and birdsong in these wonderful areas – with species such as great spotted kiwi, whio, kākāriki and dabchick set to benefit from the expansion of this partnership.

Predator Free Wellington launched

On Tuesday 27 September I attended the launch of Predator Free Wellington, which will be jointly funded by NEXT Foundation, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington City Council.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Greater Wellington Chair Chris Laidlaw and Minister Barry spoke on the inspirational vision for Wellington. Devon McLean (NEXT Foundation) announced the partnership and Kelvin Hastie inspired everyone present with a touching speech that showed how one person can create a movement in a city against stoats, rats and cats. He led Crofton Downs Predator Free Community in 2014 and has since moved into three further suburbs.

Kelvin’s theme is incredibly simple: “put a trap in your backyard and keep it set”. Miramar will be the first large suburb targeted in the initiative.

Kelvin Hastie of Predator Free Crofton Downs with NEXT Foundation’s Devon McLean at the launch.

Kelvin Hastie of Predator Free Crofton Downs with NEXT Foundation’s Devon McLean at the launch

Funding package for wilding conifers

In Budget 2016 it was announced there will be $16 million for additional wilding conifer control over the next four years.

These funds will be used to tackle large geographical areas where there is early spread and areas of light infestation. Areas have been chosen where the worst wilding conifer species are present and if left uncontrolled would spread over large areas. Values being protected include biodiversity, iconic landscapes, farmland, and water yield in water sensitive catchments.

This funding package is the start of what is expected to be a much larger control programme. Joint operational planning with MPI has commenced and we expect work to begin by October this year. Control programmes are likely to occur in Otago, Canterbury, Marlborough, and the Central North Island.

Finalists at tourism awards

We were once again pleased to be a finalist in the Tourism Industry Aotearoa Awards. Our joint application with Air New Zealand was a finalist in the Tourism Marketing Campaign category. The ‘Where to next’ campaign was strongly focused on our stretch goal: ‘90% of New Zealanders’ lives are enriched through connection to our nature’. It encouraged New Zealanders to go for a short walk at one of 22 unique Air New Zealand destinations around the country.

The Air New Zealand Supreme Tourism Award winner was Rotorua Canopy Tours. Our DOC staff in Rotorua, particularly Ron Keyzer and Rhys Burns, helped managing director James Fitzgerald and team get this attraction up and running in Dansey Road Scenic Reserve.

Over the last four years the attraction has grown to annual visitors of 30,000 and employing 50 staff over summer. Their visitor experience strongly promotes Predator Free New Zealand. With a 35km trapping network of Goodnature and DOC200 traps, they have restored the dawn chorus to this remarkable remnant of podocarp forest (that was not logged) so close to Rotorua.

Other notable winners we work closely with included Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Northland and Destination Rotorua.

With Rotorua Canopy Tours' James Fitzgerald and Andrew Blackford at the awards.

With Rotorua Canopy Tours’ James Fitzgerald and Andrew Blackford at the awards

West Coast Wilderness Trail

Recently I was able to do two sections of the West Coast Wilderness Trail. What I really enjoyed was talking to the locals about how the trail was benefiting West Coast tourism and conservation together. Last year 10,000 cyclists rode the cycleway with numbers increasing significantly year on year.

Mike Milne at Cowboy Paradise told me he now has 4,000 bed nights per annum, he hosts the Australia/New Zealand annual cowboy championships and was going through an extensive upgrading of his facilities to cope with increased annual demand.

Paul Sinclair of Tui Lu’s at the Kawhaka settlement told me of the increase in whio along the Kawhaka river, helped along by a new trap line installed by DOC along the 136km cycleway (and easily accessible for volunteers).

The cycleway has also put the small town of Kumara back on the map with superb food at the Theatre Royal Hotel.

The cycleway is a particular credit to Kevin Hague (the new Forest and Bird CEO), the Grey and Westland District Councils, Nga Haerenga – The New Zealand Cycle Trail, and DOC staff, working with Westland local government.

Paul Sinclair organised for an interpretation panel to be installed at Kawhaka settlement, telling the story of the settlement, first established in 1876.

Paul Sinclair organised for an interpretation panel to be installed at Kawhaka settlement, telling the story of the settlement, first established in 1876

South Westland community discusses tourism and conservation

I recently spoke at a community forum alongside West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board Chair, Dr Mike Legge, and the West Coast’s Economic Development Manager, Kevin Stratful.

Topics discussed at this public meeting for the South Westland community included the forthcoming Westland Tai Poutini National Park Management Plan process, the new West Coast Tourism Strategy, and the huge success our South Westland staff are having with some of the largest scale biodiversity recovery work being done in New Zealand.

The Government recently funded the West Coast Growth Study, published last month by MPI.  It looks at the sectors driving the West Coast economy, examines the challenges facing the Coast and looks at how the region can stimulate further investment.  This has tied in nicely with the development of the West Coast Tourism Strategy by Kevin Stratful.

This new strategy puts public conservation land and much of the work that DOC does right at the core of the future of the West Coast’s economic development with the new branding ‘West Coast – Untamed Natural Wilderness’.

One of the branded trucks promoting the West Coast's 'untamed natural wilderness'.

One of the branded trucks promoting the West Coast’s ‘untamed natural wilderness’

Brian Bell

New Zealand lost an exceptional champion of native wildlife and island conservation with the passing of Brian Bell on 1 October.

Brian was internationally renowned for his pioneering work on island pest eradication and restoration techniques, and translocations of endangered species.

In his work with the Wildlife Service, Brian conceived and directed groundbreaking advances in the management of threatened species. Species including black robin, kākāpō and South Island saddleback/tīeke were saved through his efforts and those of his colleagues.

Brian was early to recognise the critical importance of remote islands as arks of last refuge for our endangered species. Among the many island pest eradication programmes he directed were the removal of cats from Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island, goats from Macauley Island, and possums from Whenua Hou/Codfish Island.

Many of DOC’s current staff would have trained under Brian in the Wildlife Service Trainee Scheme and will recall his no-nonsense, practical approach and resolute determination to achieve successful outcomes for native wildlife.

He stands tall in our conservation history and leaves a huge legacy through his work in saving species and island restorations.

Brian Bell, Don Merton, Allan Munn and Geordie Newman at a black robin release on Pitt Island in the Chatham Islands in 2002.

Brian Bell, Don Merton, Allan Munn and Geordie Newman at a black robin release on Pitt Island in the Chatham Islands in 2002