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Twice a year Stella McQueen arrives in her campervan at Whangamarino Wetland to count fernbirds/mātātāa and spotless crake/pūweto for four hours every dawn and dusk.

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Every Friday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

Today we profile Murray Neilson, Technical Support Officer: Freshwater Ecosystems.

At work…

What kind of things do you do in your role?

I’m responsible for overseeing Otago Conservancy’s freshwater programme and its non-migratory galaxiid programme. I also have responsibility for overseeing the conservancy’s wetland protection role. In addition to this I’m the current Non-migratory Galaxiid Recovery Group leader. I spend much of my time advocating for freshwater habitats and species through the RMA process, gathering and presenting evidence to regional council hearings and the Environment Court.

I also represent the Department at stakeholder meetings connected with these processes. In my role as Recovery Group Leader I provide advice to Otago and other conservancies on non-migratory galaxiid protection and monitoring activities, and commission relevant research projects. Occasionally (very occasionally these days!) I get to go out with the Coastal Otago freshwater team and do some actual electric fishing survey work.

Left: In the entrance hall at Shepherdstown U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Training Centre, on an Environmental Flows training course.
Right: One for the pot – hunting at Omaio 2010.

What is the best part about your job?

The great environments it’s been my good fortune to work in (e.g. fisheries surveys in the Otago high country as part of High Country Tenure Review – just magic!), and the many good people it’s been my privilege to work with.

What is the hardest part about your job?

Convincing other agencies of the need to give greater recognition and protection to our unique freshwater species and habitats.Understanding the various complexities of NHMS, species optimisation, priority setting etc., and dealing with the machinations of the DOC bureaucracy.

What led you to your role in DOC?

I was previously a Game Management Officer with the Wildlife Service and was stationed in Dunedin, dealing with gamebird management, wetlands and environmental planning issues from July 1975 until April 1987 when DOC subsumed the service. Prior to that I’d been an Assistant Game Management Officer in Rotorua, and before that, after completing a wildlife traineeship, an Assistant Fauna Conservation Officer working out of Wellington.

Left: Upper Ahuriri Valley. Right: Good trout from the upper Ahuriri River.

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

Pending the opening morning of the game season, duck hunting with my son Sean in the Upper Taieri wetland (quite successfully I might add!).

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. My family
  2. My pets
  3. Otago Province

Three pet peeves

  1. Terms such as ‘going forward’, ‘change is inevitable’ (perhaps, but is it always for the good?) and other management speak
  2. Tele-marketers
  3. Over-sensitive car alarms

Three foods

  1. Slow roasted Canada goose (you have to try it, believe me!)
  2. Mushroom soup
  3. Porterhouse steak (medium rare)

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. The Ahuriri Valley
  2. The Maniototo basin
  3. Waipori/Waihola wetland

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Movie – A River Runs Through It
  2. Album – The Last Waltz – The Band, and most early Bob Dylan stuff
  3. Book – This one’s hard, I read a lot and love spy thrillers and mysteries, so it’s whatever I’m enjoying at the time. My favourite authors are David Baldacci, Greg Iles, Richard North Patterson, Christopher Reichs, and Lee Child.

Left: Another for the pot – Wilberforce River 2009.
Right: Canoeing with my daughter on Lake Waihola.

Deep and meaningful

“Don’t look back – something might be gaining on you!” For some reason this line, uttered by Kris Kristofferson in the film Convoy, has stuck with me.

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Never give up (at least without a good fight!).

Who or what inspires you and why?

A still, late summer’s day on a free-running river, and extremely talented individuals.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A Wildlife Officer (surprisingly enough!).

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

Retired and relaxed – which I’m shortly to be!

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Forget this electric car stuff (this will eventaully lead to demand for more hydro dams, despite the current hiatus). Eco-diesel is the way to go (made from waste product, of course!).

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year – at home? At work?

At home (as that’s where I’ll mostly be, in future) – grow more vegetables and make more compost.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

Our native falcon, kārearea – the combination of speed, agility and fearlessness is irresistable.

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

You only get one good chance at this, so do it right, and look after your freshwater habitats!