Before heading off to new pastures, Department of Conservation (DOC) Director-General Lou Sanson shared his thoughts on one of the projects he’s most proud of – Mahi mō te Taiao / Jobs for Nature.
Lou believes Jobs for Nature is creating something powerful and different.
“Jobs for Nature has supercharged the way DOC works with others,” Lou says. “DOC has shifted from doing the work out in the field, to building capability across iwi and community groups and supporting them to deliver conservation work.”
A different New Zealand
Jobs for Nature answered the call when the community needed help following lockdown in autumn 2020.
“The tourism industry had completely collapsed in places like Te Anau, Waitomo and Franz Josef, and communities were crying out for jobs. DOC was able to provide a lifeline to these communities through Jobs for Nature.”
The programme was designed to provide nature-based jobs to communities and industries that had been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the tourism and hospitality industry. The programme has had to adapted to the needs of regional communities including funding projects that target iwi and youth unemployment.
Lou is quick to ease concerns that Jobs for Nature is taking labour away from industries like dairy, fruit picking and tourism.
“The programme is giving back, rather than taking away. For instance, tourism workers participating in Jobs for Nature projects will have a wealth of knowledge about Tikanga Māori and conservation which will enrich their work when the border reopens – with the added bonus that they’ll also be ambassadors for nature!”
He recalls the words of the Prime Minister who, at the start of the programme, said Jobs for Nature would contribute to making New Zealand a different country when the border reopens.
From the bigger picture to personal benefits
By visiting as many projects as he could, Lou saw first-hand how Jobs for Nature projects were making positive impacts on those participating in them.
“There’s a story on every project,” he says. “On one particular visit a man told me: ‘This project changed my life. I used to be a night watchman and now I’m living in light with other people’.”
Lou also recalled how visits to projects in Northland made his spine tingle. “One particular area had gone from high levels of unemployment, to everyone working for a cause. People told me the ngahere (the forest) used to push them away, but now it’s pulling them in.”
Looking towards a lasting legacy
Although he is leaving DOC, Lou is looking forward to enjoying Jobs for Nature’s successes.
“For me, it will be driving through the Mackenzie Basin and seeing the great marching army of wilding pines under control.
“I’m looking forward to seeing braided river birds and invertebrates thriving on the Waikanae river. I’m also excited to see people in far Northland and Ngāti Awa (Whakatāne) in really meaningful work.”
Jobs for Nature is all about partnerships. Whether it’s with iwi, community groups, other government departments, or nature. DOC working with others will help ensure Papatūānuku thrives.
Lou notes that while it took the hard work of some to get Jobs for Nature off the ground, it will be the work, aspiration and determination of many more people that will create a lasting legacy once the programme finishes in 2024.
Learn more about the Jobs for Nature programme which is helping revitalise communities through nature-based employment: www.doc.govt.nz/jobs-for-nature