Thursday, February 16, 2012

Restoring the balance

Many of us take for granted the unique landscape and wildlife that characterises New Zealand. But organsations like DOC and Horizons Regional Council know first hand the challenges involved in maintaining the balance needed for our unique flora and fauna to flourish.

DOC, together with Horizons Regional Council, Whanganui iwi and private landowners, has been working in the remote forests around Whanganui National Park to manage biodiversity on a scale not previously attempted in New Zealand.

The Kia Wharite project, as it’s known to DOC and Horizons, spans over 180,000 hectares and includes a mixture of private land and parts of the Whanganui National Park, the second largest lowland forest in the North Island. This remote area is home to the largest population of North Island brown kiwi and plays host to a number of native bird and plant species.

The introduction of possums, goats and other predators has threatened the health of the forest and put the long-term future of its inhabitants in jeopardy. Recognising the importance of this area, Kia Wharite was established in 2008 to improve land, water and biodiversity health, and enhance community and economic well-being. The largest project of its kind in New Zealand in terms of scale and scope, it has already achieved national species protection targets.

“DOC, Horizons and AHB are undertaking extensive possum control operations, with over 150,000 hectares now being managed for possums. As a result the canopy is improving which is good news for the birds and plants we want to encourage,” says Craig Mitchell, Horizons’ group manager environmental management .

“There’s also been a lot of stoat and cat control carried out and we now have approximately 50 pairs of whio [native blue duck] within protected areas of the Manganui o te Ao and Retaruke Rivers.”

Department of Conservation area manager Dr Nic Peet says that although it’s early days the signs are looking promising for the kiwi population as well.

“We have just completed baseline monitoring of the kiwi population which will allow us to monitor changes in the population over the next three years but the number of reports of kiwi calling we are receiving from people in the area is very encouraging,” says Dr Peet.

Dr Peet said that kiwi aversion training has also been completed with over 200 dogs in the area to reduce kiwi kills by dogs and such training will become a requirement for any hunters using dogs in the area.

It’s not just the environment that’s benefiting from the project though. Horizons and DOC believe there are positive economic returns to be had from the project as well.

Horizons, DOC, the Ministry of Economic Development, Te Puni Kokiri and the Hinengakau Development Trust have supported the establishment of a training and business development unit, Te Amo Taiao which has seen 10 trainees develop their skills in pest control and biodiversity management.

Through the Kia Wharite project Te Amo Taiao has been able to establish itself as a stand alone business unit with 10 staff, allowing the employment of local people to carry out fieldwork alongside DOC and Horizons staff.

Mr Mitchell said that the improvements in the areas are also proving to be a draw card for visitors to the area through the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail and Te Araroa Walkway.

“Healthy native forest and the chance to see blue duck or listen to kiwi are attracting tourists to the area which in turn helps provide economic return to the wider area.”

Chair of Horizons Environment Committee Jill White said she is pleased with the progress made to date. Cr White will be part of a delegation visiting the area later this month.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the achievements of Kia Wharite and what can be accomplished when organisations join forces and work collaboratively,” said Cr White.