DOC cuts concern sanctuary staff

SARAH YOUNG
Last updated 13:00 02/11/2011

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Sanctuary workers around the country are concerned Department of Conservation job cuts will affect innovation and new best practice in work being done to protect native species, says the chairman of Nelson's Brook Sanctuary.

Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Trust chairman Dave Butler attended a meeting of sanctuary staff from around New Zealand in Wellington last week, where the impacts of the loss of 96 DOC jobs, announced by the department earlier this year as part of a $7.5 million cost-cutting exercise, were discussed.

Mr Butler said there were concerns about the loss of technical knowledge and support, which was particularly relevant in Nelson given the number of staff actively involved in the sanctuary, in areas such as bird monitoring and invertebrate work.

These technical roles would be either disestablished or shifted to one of three new regional centres in Christchurch, Hamilton and Wellington, Mr Butler said.

"The technical support that has been vital to get this mainland conservancy movement happening is now being lost.

"This whole thing is so challenging, we're needing technical improvement all the time ... but we can't see how [the department is] going to support technical development as it did in the past."

It was increasingly looking like the community would have to provide more support, he said.

DOC said 21 positions would go from Nelson but some of those would be relocated and provide services back to Nelson.

These will be mostly in legal, planning, science and technical and communications support roles.

Mr Butler said DOC had responded to the group's concerns by saying technical support would be provided by area office staff in the first instance, who would call on experts in regional centres as required. This could work to some extent, he said.

"For day-to-day running [in the short-term] the current technical support should be fine, but it's the moving forward ... we're already applying current DOC best practice – the challenge to me is continuing improving and moving that forward, which depends on technical experts at the conservancy level."

One of the largest challenges requiring this expertise was managing large areas outside the sanctuary once birds and wildlife were released to surrounding areas, he said.

Forest & Bird regional field officer Debs Martin said she agreed with Mr Butler.

"We have got maybe a few things that will tick along for a while, but over time it will collapse and erode."

The "serious loss" of these technical and other DOC staff was "probably one of the worst guttings of the environment" she had seen in decades, she said.

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"There's a lot of unsung heroes who are not going to be in the department any more."

Nelson had been one of the hardest hit areas, considering it was one of the country's biodiversity hot-spots.

Most of the people she was in contact with daily, such as when seeking advice for a pest-control programme for protecting long-tailed bats from pigs at the Pelorus River Scenic Reserve as she was doing yesterday, were not going to be there any more, Ms Martin said.

"Who am I going to ring, who's going to know that in the future? We're losing people with decades of experience working in this community."

The loss of the region's planners, lawyers and concession staff would also leave a big hole in the region, she said.

This could mean things like the region's Conservation Management Strategy would end up being done by people "without intimate knowledge of the region or people ... and that's the ridiculousness of it".

Planning staff also worked with local councils and non-government organisations on issues such as protection of coastal areas, which were not necessary on DOC land, but were some of the most important areas in the country, she said.

DOC senior media adviser Chas Te Runa said the review process was still being worked through, and final decisions could be expected early to mid next year.

There would be a debriefing process where the department would look to ensure a consistent hand-over of work, files and knowledge from those who left the organisation, he said.

When asked if area office structure and roles were likely to come up for review next year, Mr Te Runa said: "DOC is committed to delivering cost-effective conservation services. We are still waiting to hear budget details for the next financial year, and we will continue to look at all areas of our work as required."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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