River Rangers – restoring our key waterways

Department of Conservation —  30/07/2022

This Sunday marks World Ranger Day (31 July) a day to celebrate and acknowledge the passionate rangers working to protect our nature. Meet our new River Rangers tasked with restoring key waterways in Aotearoa as part of the Ngā Awa river restoration programme.

DOC’s dedicated River Rangers are working with local communities to improve or fix key river systems. Clean flowing rivers support biodiversity, providing moisture for soil, nourishment for species and people, and spaces for recreation.

Rangers Aroha, Steve and Chris tell us what they love most about being River Rangers and their work restoring some of our most special freshwater spots.

Whanganui River

Ranger Aroha Greenhalgh

Aroha Greenhalgh

Aroha is a ranger working in the Ngā Awa River Restoration programme based in Taumaranui. She is part of the team starting to work do in the Whanganui catchment.

What things do you do in your job?

‘A big focus for my role is building connections with people who are close to our waterways. I really acknowledge and admire those people of the land who have historic knowledge of the landform and the changes that have occurred over the last 50 years including those who fish locally and have such amazing knowledge about what the streams need to be healthy.

I am working on creating opportunities for practical projects on conservation land as a way to engage with local people at place. This is to help build up connections between DOC and Ngāti Haaua and Ngāti Manunui, Ngāti Hikairo hapu of Ngāti Tuwharetoa Iwi at the top end of the catchment. We are wanting to do some stream monitoring together so we can share our practices and empower people to reconnect with their traditional knowledge or matauranga Māori. This involves a different way of working where we involve the local marae, the ahi ka, and seek active participation from people, asking them to be consultants rather than the usual consultation process.’

What inspires you the most in your role?

‘I am inspired by the opportunities to enhance our local ecosystems for fish migration, healthier streams, that will benefit our local mahinga kai. Water cres and tuna were historically abundant in freshwater streams and harvested as our staple diet. I believe that if we can work to a more sustainable way of living, our mental, physical, spiritual and social wellbeing will all be enhanced (as set out in our local maramataka calendar guide).

What’s the best day you have had as a ranger?

‘Doing a stream assessment at one site in the headwaters of the Whanganui river with Jane Taylor, the River Ranger and hapū member Hone Albert (Ngāti Hikairo). It was so insightful to have Hone involved, as a local hunter and fisher he really enjoyed learning about the scientific approach to stream health assessment. But what was so amazing to witness was how the day highlighted for Hone his own values and reignited an awareness in him that he already had the traditional knowledge to make that stream assessment. I told him to write it down when he got home. So the day was pretty special for me because I could see how incredible it would be if we were able to connect everyone with their river and their own traditional matauranga.’  

Aroha Greenhalgh

Where’s your favourite spot in New Zealand?

‘The headwaters of the Whanganui River. I have been elsewhere around NZ but herethere are the four winds from the four different ranges and you have to learn how to navigate them. That makes it unpredictable, so it teaches you to be humble and work with the elements. I love the mixture of water and fire and am reminded of the story of Ngātoro-i-rangi traversing the volcanic fault line, who called to his sister from Hawaiki to delivered him fire to dim the chill of the south prevailing winds for his survival, and we remember this at the northern site of Kete-tahi geothermal crater (one basket of fire) upon our maunga Tongariro (Matua Toa).

Chris Kavazos

Ranger Chris Kavazos

Chris is a ranger working in the Ngā Awa River Restoration programme based in Alexandra. He is part of the team working on the Taiari catchment.

What things do you do in your job?

My job is really diverse! I do a lot of freshwater work that include surveys and monitoring of native fish populations using techniques like electrofishing, eDNA and trapping. I also work closely with mana whenua to deliver projects that include understanding the distribution and health of important mahinga kai species, understanding the effects of climate change on freshwater ecosystems and increasing collaboration with other agencies and stakeholders.

What inspires you the most in your role?

The vision and aspirations of mana whenua for restoring our freshwater ecosystems is really inspiring. The iwi groups I work with have ambitious restoration goals that will take hundreds of years to achieve. They have a strong priority to develop kaupapa that will benefit their mokopuna, which is often juxtaposed against the shorter time frames that community groups, industry and government are working to.

What’s the best day you’ve had as a ranger?

There are so many! Any day when I am out in the field teaching others about native freshwater fauna is always a highlight.

Where’s your favourite place in New Zealand?

The Taiari catchment – all of it! It has some of the most amazing wetland systems and, when the weather is fine, you will find yourself surrounded by one of Central Otago’s amazing vistas.

Ranger Steve Bielby

Steve is a ranger working in the Ngā Awa River Restoration programme based in our Kapiti Wellington Office. He is part of the team doing work on the Waikanae awa.

Steve Bielby

What things do you do in your job?

Steve joined DOC four years ago as a community ranger. He came with a background in the legal and management space. In 2018 the Ngā Awa programme identified the Waikanae Awa as one of 14 rivers to be restored from mountains to sea. Steve immediately put his hand up to join the team!

Over the last three years Steve has shaped a collection of different interests into a large scale, multi-stakeholder freshwater restoration project. Quite literally he has brought people together! Whitebaiters, restoration groups, river advocates, council staff, people and other groups.

Steve’s leadership and drive to achieve genuine partnership with iwi has been critical in this project, working through challenges and ensuring outcomes are delivered. Grounding the project in tikanga which will ensure its longevity.

Catchment scale river restoration is a relatively new area for DOC and was certainly a new space for our district team. Steve utilised his skills in leadership, organisation and collaboration to lift the programme above the individual interests at site to take a whole of catchment approach.

River Ranger Steve

What’s special about the Waikanae awa?

The Waikanae is a relatively small river running from steep, forested front country, through broken farmland into an urban area and out to a marine reserve.

The river provides drinking water for the Waikanae community. A river recharge scheme supplements water taken from it during times of peak demand and times of low water flows. The river is also highly valued for recreation, including walking and whitebaiting.

Waikanae awa