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One Year into Dream Job - Limestone Island Ranger

Media Release 11 March 2014

One Year into Dream Job - Limestone Island Ranger

Finding kiwi chicks, ferrying students to the island, building tracks, and measuring geckos are all part of a day’s work for Bernie Buhler. Bernie is the ranger on Limestone Island in Whangarei Harbour and the 93 acre island’s only resident. “This is a dream job for me. I had just graduated from NorthTec when I started here as the ranger in February 2013. I love the conservation work and I love the passion of the people I work with.”

But Bernie is relatively new to the world of conservation and wildlife. “I worked as a chef for twenty years, mostly in Whangarei, and was ready for a change. I have always liked the outdoors and looked into study options at NorthTec. Because I was out of the habit of study, I started with a year certificate course in Conservation Management. I surprised myself, did really well, got a scholarship for more study, and so went on to complete the Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in Biodiversity.”

Part of Bernie’s third year study project included field trips to Limestone Island so he got to know the then rangers, Ben and Jo Barr. Bernie - “After I finished my degree Ben contacted me because he required the services of a trapper. They later needed someone to island-sit while they went on summer holiday, and then they decided to leave and Ben became a tutor at NorthTec. I was appointed interim ranger and later was selected for the advertised ranger job from 93 applicants.”

Bernie is Limestone Island’s fifth ranger. “This tiny island has a cool history. There is a Pa at the top and the north face was all Māori gardens so that area is a protected historic site. The European history dates back to a cement works on the other side of the island from 1860 to 1918 and its old ruins are still standing. The island was later quarried for lime and grazed, but its conservation era started with the Forest and Bird Society looking after the place in 1989. The island got its first ranger in 1992.”

Massive planting and introduction of native birds and insects have since been made possible by collaboration between the committee overseeing the island, Friends of Matakohe/Limestone Island, sponsors Golden Bay Cement and Kiwi for Kiwis, owners Northland District Council, plus many others. Bernie – “Because the land was grazed bare it will take decades to get mature tree cover for birds but in the meantime we have plenty of exciting and diverse wildlife projects on the go.”

Seven species of lizard were trans-located to Limestone Island, weta, stick insects, and giant centipedes were introduced, and the island also became part of BNZ’s Operation Nest Egg crèche programme. Bernie – “The island was generally predator free by 1991 so we are able to raise kiwi chicks here and return them to the mainland. We also now have increasing numbers of dotterels, oyster catchers, pied stilts, fernbirds, banded rails, and petrels.”

The variety of Bernie’s island ranger work is a big part of his job’s appeal and he has plenty of physical and social support. “I can be introducing weta to kids, checking the predator traps, then weighing petrel, driving the barge, or helping volunteers build a track. We have a barge that holds 23 people and I bring school groups, retired people, or volunteers over here once or twice a week. We have a well attended volunteers’ day once a month and people are keen to help with making tracks, weeding, baiting traps, or building.”

There is an island cabin for any overnight volunteers and Bernie has his own two bedroom house with gas cooking, solar power, television, broadband, and compost toilet. “We’re also well set up with a shed, a caravan, a tractor, generator, barge, and dinghy. I’m my own boss and I work 60-70 hours a week even though I get paid for 40. It’s what I love to do anyway. The only challenge for me is being disciplined enough to get the necessary report writing, emails, and paperwork done - but it’s good for rainy days.”

Bernie attributes the NorthTec science degree tutors for turning him on to learning and onto conservation. “We had a week long camp when our course started and we were immersed in learning outdoors. The degree is a tough course but so worthwhile if you can hang in there. It gave me the skills and confidence to get this job.”

The Limestone Island Ranger position is now limited to a three year contract. Bernie – “I’m a year into it and loving it. When the time is up though, I’ll probably go on to something bigger and better, like Little Barrier Island, but I’m happy to go anywhere and I know I’ll enjoy whatever comes up.”


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