Counting on corporate conservation

Cooper Island Restoration Project Manager Gerald Hill flagging trap routes on Cooper Island in Dusky Sound last month. Real Journeys is funding the removal of predators on the island as its contribution to DOC's larger Dusky Sound Restoration Project. Chief executive Richard Lauder said it would take at least four years to get the predators under control, which was a half million-dollar commitment for the company. PHOTO: Tsehai Tiffin


Corporate and private interest in supporting Fiordland conservation efforts is on the rise, with businesses big and small wanting to contribute their part to preserve their backyard.

The Department of Conservation's (DOC) Fiordland office is this year counting on $600,000 from corporate partnerships and sponsorships, the largest amount of private funding it's ever had to help support its operational budget. It's part of a rising trend of the private sector wanting to do its bit to protect the great outdoors, with Fiordland being a particular drawcard for interested patrons across New Zealand.

DOC operations manager for Te Anau, Greg Lind said the unique nature of Fiordland seemed to be a real drawcard for businesses and groups wanting to give back. It was New Zealand's largest national park with abundance of important wildlife, and people saw in the region something unique worth preserving. 

The national park is now supported by 24 active corporate sponsorships/partnerships and 37 active community partnerships. Sponsors range as far and wide as Air New Zealand helping to fund a trapping project along the Routeburn Track, to safety and agriculture apparel brand Styx Mill supplying DOC Fiordland's Recreation/Historic team with their outerwear products.

DOC senior ranger/supervisor for community Kate Hebblethwaite said she was having more conversations with external partners in the last 18 months than in the 18 months prior. It wasn't just about the financial component either, but also for private interests to tell the conservation story for them.

Local community conservation groups also contributed a similar sum through direct fundraising and project funding, she said.

One of those groups, the Fiordland Conservation Trust, is celebrating 10 years since it was incorporated in 2008. Trust chairman Kim Hollows said the idea was to give businesses the opportunity to fund targeted conservation projects of their choice.

Ten years later, the trust is now working on 12 projects in Fiordland that are supported by 33 partners, 18 of which were businesses. Its Kids Restore the Kepler initiative has four sponsors on its own. 

Mr Hollows said there was an attitude shift, with more people seeing the value in contributing to conservation efforts. While they worked with large companies such as Southern Discoveries, which sponsors conservation work in the Sinbad Gully area next to Mitre Peak, they also received small donations from private donors from as far away as Auckland, who simply wanted to contribute to Fiordland.

Other small businesses and groups like Wairaurahiri Jet and the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation have been paving their own way with conservation in their backyard. Over the last 10 years, Wairaurahiri Jet has developed its own trapping network of around 280 traps around the Wairaurahiri River, the South Coast, and the Hump Ridge Track, around half of which are sponsored by individuals and businesses.

"People are interested. Not all of them, but most of them. It's a sad story but it's no good just telling sad stories, we have to have happy endings. So our happy ending is that we can do a little bit to help."

Wairaurahiri Jet co-owner Johan Groters said seeing the effects of predation the native wildlife inspired him and his wife, Joyce Kolk, to start setting up traps in an effort to hold the line. 

Not only was it their way of giving back, Mr Groters said it was also good for business, and that many visitors were keen to learn about conservation issues in the region. 

"People are interested. Not all of them, but most of them. It's a sad story but it's no good just telling sad stories, we have to have happy endings. So our happy ending is that we can do a little bit to help."

In addition to keeping red deer numbers in check, the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation started its own stoat trapping programme back in 2005, starting with 175 trap boxes in the Worsley Valley, including the Castle Side Valley. Since then it's grown its trapping network to other locations such as the Nitz Valley and Lugar Burn. The foundation also works with the Kea Conservation Trust by encouraging their members to record and report sightings of kea during the month-long Wapiti ballot each year. 

Trail camera footage from the Valleys Conservation Project along the Cozette/Camelot Valley west of Te Anau showing a deer making an appearance next to a Goodnature self-resetting stoat trap. PHOTO: Mike Fisk

Just last week the call was put out by Aucklander Mike Fisk's Valleys Conservation Project for businesses to "adopt" a Fiordland valley, that is, funding additional trapping efforts alongside the DOC's existing projects. 

"There's a growing realisation that we can't just sit back and 'let the government do it'," he said. "If we want to preserve our natural heritage, Kiwis have to get out there and help."

A year and a half ago, the project team installed 250 self-resetting stoat and rat traps along 13 km of the Cozette/Camelot Valley west of Te Anau. During the first 12 months the traps cleared about 1000 predators from the valley and a recent whio survey confirmed successful breeding.

Heartened by their success, Dr Fisk was now encouraging others to come on board to fund a trap line of their own in eight neighbouring areas in the park. 

"There's a growing realisation that we can't just sit back and 'let the government do it'," he said. "If we want to preserve our natural heritage, Kiwis have to get out there and help."


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