DOC volunteers stretched

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2013

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Volunteers for the Department of Conservation in South Canterbury are wary of taking on more work, yet may be asked to after paid staff learn of further restructuring today.

DOC director-general Al Morrison has previously indicated more than 100 people could lose their jobs nationwide in the latest round of cuts, with operational staff in area offices likely to be affected.

Spokeswoman Lizzy Sutcliffe said staff would receive the restructuring proposal today.

"DOC ... realises it needs to harness the support of others," she said.

"This requires a more cohesive, outward-looking and customer-focused structure that engages better with outside parties."

However, South Canterbury volunteer spokespeople spoken to yesterday were wary of being able to take on more work.

Community relations ranger Ursula Paul said from October 2012 to March this year an estimated 972 volunteer hours - or 161 work days - were logged in the Twizel office's area.

"This does not include the hours of work that separate community organisations do for us - that is only the individual volunteers," she said.

"We can't really ask for more from those who already volunteer for us, but more volunteers would always be welcome," Mrs Paul said.

At the Raukapuka-Geraldine area office, volunteers logged an estimated 1332 hours from November 2012 to last month.

Aoraki-Mt Cook community relations programme manager Shirley Slatter said 17 volunteers worked as wardens at Mueller Hut during the summer; another dozen tended to various predator traps.

In total, more than 1200 volunteer hours were logged in the November to February period.

"We don't think there would be any more work for our volunteers. Everything else, such as industrial fire brigade services, community education and search and rescue, requires fulltime qualified staff," she said.

Ohau Conservation Trust chairman John Smithies said its organisation provided more than 4000 hours of volunteer time over the last five years, including wilding pine removal, and installing predator traps throughout the Mackenzie Basin.

"We have about 30 to 40 regular volunteers, we also fundraise a lot off our own bat," Mr Smithies said.

"None of us are experts. It's got to the stage where we've had to call contractors in to do some of the harder work."

Mr Smithies was worried central government had muzzled the department.

"In the last few years, the department has not submitted on many of the irrigation proposals in the Mackenzie Basin. That seems to be contrary to its role as an advocate for conservation and ecology," he said.

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The department's operating budget for the last financial year was $335 million - $25m less than in 2008.

STAFF NUMBERS

Aoraki-Mt Cook: 19 positions (three vacancies).*

Raukapuka/Geraldine: 18 positions (four vacancies).

Te Manahuna/Twizel: 27 positions (two vacancies).

*Some vacancies caused by current non-replacement policy, as DOC restructures.

- South Canterbury

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