Eight DOC staff to go under changes

The major shift in how the Department of Conservation operates will see at least eight jobs lost in Nelson and Marlborough, and regional offices will no longer be one-stop-shops for the public and community conservation groups.

Environmentalists are tipping more cuts in frontline staff, and Opposition politicians are warning of systemic failures from muddled management.

Nationally, 72 DOC staff will lose their jobs, including eight in the top of the south, under the changes.

They will reconfigure staff into two work streams - one focusing on "delivering conservation", and the other on developing working partnerships with the community and businesses to support conservation.

However, until the Government last week announced a $5 million annual boost to DOC's coffers over four years, DOC was set to lose 140 staff nationally.

The increased funding cut DOC's annual targeted savings from $8.7m to $3.7m.

Details released by DOC's national public relations team indicate that the changes will see the central Nelson office gain four staff. Takaka will now lose three staff, instead of the proposed 4.9, and Motueka staff will number 23.3 fulltime equivalents, down from the current 26. No figures were given for St Arnaud's staffing level.

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said last week's funding top-up still left DOC $3.8m short this year, and having to find savings of another $14m over the next three years.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we see further rounds of frontline job cuts in the coming years."

He said the Government's continual reductions in DOC's funding were extremely short-sighted.

"DOC plays a critical role in looking after New Zealand's endangered species and precious places, and in looking after our clean, green image, which is what most of the tourists who come to New Zealand want to see."

However, Motueka area manager Martin Rodd - who is among those who will lose his job under the changes - was positive about the new-look organisation.

He said that while there would be a shakedown period, the revamp would provide a stable platform for future planning and development that would make the most of conservation opportunities.

Community pest control groups, such as Project Janszoon and Friends of Flora, would still be able to talk with biodiversity experts in the Motueka office, he said. But those experts would no longer multitask - for example, organising volunteers or meetings.

Staff at the Nelson region's main area offices will cover both conservation delivery and partnership work, but the conservation staff will be managed from Hokitika and the partnership staff from Nelson.

Fears that the country's threatened flora and fauna would be the losers in the business-based redesign were unfounded, Mr Rodd said. DOC still had a $330m annual budget and funding, and work on protecting remote threatened species and ecosystems would be retained.

Direction for the local conservation and business partnership staff would come via a national planning team which would identify priority projects, in consultation with local offices, he said. "It means we will be able to work better as an organisation."

Mr Rodd was positive about the new conservation partnership opportunities.

"We don't know how much is out there in terms of people interested in investing in conservation. We have been able to achieve some amazing partnerships under the structure we currently have, like Project Janszoon and the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust. Imagine what we can do if we focus on that work."

However DOC's community advocacy role was likely to be reduced, he said.

"I have heard we will be doing less on landscapes."

Green Party conservation spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said splitting DOC into a commercial and community partnership arm and a conservation services arm meant fewer resources would be focused on conservation of protected areas, and there was a risk of developing a "silo" mentality and the fragmentation of conservation work.

"The Cooper report, released last week, highlights that the new structure risks the muddled reporting and management systems which contributed to the Cave Creek platform collapse.

"Serious attention needs to be paid to the increased risk of systemic failure that the Cooper report identifies.

"We need to fund DOC properly so that we can protect the treasured places and endangered species that New Zealanders love."

The Nelson Mail