Restructuring at the Department of Conservation has sparked concern among Hauraki Gulf Forum members that conservation work there could be compromised by staff cuts.
Up to 110 people are said to be leaving DOC as a result of changes announced earlier this year - including nine positions in the former Auckland conservancy and three in Waikato.
According to forum chair and Hauraki District Council Mayor John Tregidga, concerns had been raised by forum members, which includes representatives from five councils in the Waikato region.
"There is a huge amount of voluntary work going into planting and pest eradication [on gulf islands], which DOC have very much been part of.
"Significant gains have been made and there is a real concern that without the support of DOC staff on the ground, some of this work will be put at risk."
Mr Tregidga said DOC was the "key" Government department that worked with the forum to ensure the gulf's health, and there needed to be professional staff behind the volunteers.
DOC management has consistently maintained the new structure will not compromise its core work - and would enable new conservation partnerships - but the forum's concerns were significant enough that a top-level meeting between the organisations was convened late last month.
Nicki Douglas, director partnerships for the Northern North Island region, spoke with forum members.
"The message from the department is that we see huge potential for more conservation to be delivered in the gulf," she said.
Ms Douglas said she could understand the concern of some forum members.
"They probably can't see how the new structure will help us do that. It is a case of wait and see because until we actually prove that we are able to do it, they will have that doubt."
In the restructure, 11 conservancy districts have been merged into six and two new groups have been formed - one responsible for recreation, historic and biodiversity work, and the other "for growing conservation through partnerships".
Ms Douglas said DOC could support the forum by bringing in more resources and volunteers through partnerships with iwi and business. An example was the departments marine protection partnership with Air New Zealand. DOC rangers would be working with community groups to upskill them and improve their capability.
"We are going to have to have the conversation about what work DOC will do with trusts, and it might look different, but our commitment is to support them to achieve conservation."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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