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Canterbury Conservancy News Briefs Sept–Nov 1999


 Kaki (black stilt) excellent survival rate
 Local students help with dolphin research
 Environmental Education
 Aircraft Monitoring
 Concessions Activity
 Research on Tourism Operations
 Whitebait Monitoring
 Nesting and Driving don’t mix
 Otira Viaduct Opening
 Vandalism in Remote Areas
 Volunteer Holiday Programmes
 Toilet Cleaning
 DOC at A&P Show

Kaki released into the wild

Department of Conservation staff and local residents in Twizel released 19 of the critically endangered kaki (black stilt) in September. After two months all of those birds are still alive.

Kaki recovery programme manager Dave Murray says this is a good indication that last year’s valuable lesson has paid off. “By close monitoring of the 15 sub-adults released in September 1998 we were able to recover 10 of the 11 which died in the first two weeks. All were underweight and their enlarged thyroid glands suggested an iodine imbalance in their captive diet. They had also experienced cold, snowy conditions a few days after release. ”

In response to these findings an iodine supplement was provided to the next group of six sub-adults due for release in October 1998, and was continued afterwards at their release site for the following month. All six birds survived and are still alive today.

“In light of these results we are optimistic about this season’s releases, but we’re not taking any unnecessary risks,” says Dave. “ If there had been any sign of bad weather we would have postponed this release.” Ten of the twenty birds will also carry radio transmitters to give us a good indication of survival rates. Any of these that die will be collected to find out the cause of death.

“This coming breeding season all eggs will be collected and raised in captivity,” said Dave. “With so few birds in the wild the risk to nests from predators, flooding and disturbance is too great.”

Captive rearing and release is proving an invaluable management technique to maintain the wild population until methods are found to efficiently deal with the causes of decline. Since 1992 less than 4% of eggs hatched in the wild have made it through to the adult population, whereas 30% of eggs hatched in captivity, and later released, live to be adults.
Dolphin Research

Girls from the Rangi Ruru Girls School environment group have taken the endangered Hector’s dolphin to heart. The girls carried out a variety of fund raising schemes for dolphin research. They held a ‘Dolphin Day’ at school, where students paid to wear mufti and to leap around in the bouncy castle they hired.

The smallest of the world’s marine dolphins, the Hector’s is the only dolphin officially on the endangered list. It has a relatively low reproductive rate, matures late and has a short life span. A population of 100 might increase by 2- 4 per year at the most, so mortality in nets has a big impact on the population. Unfortunately they are very susceptible to entanglement in gillnets and research is being done to find ways to eliminate this.

At the Rangi Ruru assembly Alistair Hutt, the Akaroa Field Centre manager, gave a talk on Hector’s dolphin and the research that the Department of Conservation and the New England Aquarium are carrying out in Akaroa Harbour. The girls presented the DOC with a cheque for $1000. This will be used for further dolphin research.

Environmental Education

Environmental Education is making progress, both nationally and locally. The national strategy, “Learning to Care for Our Environment” was released by the Ministry for the Environment in June 1998 and has been followed up with “Guidelines for Environmental Education in New Zealand Schools” produced recently by the Ministry of Education.

In Canterbury over the last few years DOC (represented by Annette Hamblett) and a number of other organisations and groups, have been working towards a stronger, joint effort with environmental education and are now seeing their efforts come to fruition.

Part of this is a partnership between the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), Christchurch College of Education, DOC and the Canterbury Regional Council. A full time teacher is about to be appointed to set up and run an environmental education programme for Years 7-10, (Forms 1-4) on “the coast to the mountains.” The teacher will also produce resources for the programme and will be based partly at the Craigieburn Centre and partly at the College of Education.

The programme will be a three day one with school groups taking part in activities on the way up to Craigieburn, at Craigieburn and on the way back from Craigieburn. This should be underway about March next year. It will be a good opportunity for DOC’s environmental education topics to be professionally presented to schools.

Aircraft Monitoring

An aircraft monitoring programme in Aoraki/Mount Cook has proven to have positive effects on reducing air-traffic and aircraft noise in the area, says the Department of Conservation.

DOC concessions supervisor Andy Thompson said the programme is in its second year and is about to commence its third year. “Already the aircraft industry has taken positive steps to reduce aircraft noise and change some flight paths.”

Last year, a survey conducted on 400 people at Blue Lakes in the Tasman Valley, showed that 15% were annoyed by aircraft activity. However this year the level was reduced by 2% to 13%. “Although the reduction is not statistically significant it shows the trend is heading the right way as the level of aircraft impacts on recreationists appears to be decreasing.”

The industry of its own initiative has completed an environmental policy, which considers the effects of different aircraft types on ground based users. It also reviews aircraft operation procedures to minimise noise, and wherever safe and possible, suggests alternative flight paths.

Operators (including the Helicopter Line) have also voluntarily altered one of their main flight paths to minimise the noise impact on ground based visitors, and adopted a high and wide flying policy.

“One of the big issues used to be climbers being buzzed and startled by aircraft while climbing. We used to get regular complaints three or four years ago, but we haven’t had any for a while now. I think this, and the monitoring, are good examples of how the aircraft industry is taking greater responsibility for their impacts”

DOC and the Westland Aoraki aircraft users group have been meeting on a regular basis to discuss and implement these improvements, Mr Thompson said. “We’re addressing these issues by agreement rather than regulation which is a refreshing experience, as we’ve never had co-operation like this before.”

Concession Activity Increase

Canterbury Conservancy has experienced an increase in the number of new concession applications in the past nine months. This has created a significant increase in the Christchurch concession section’s workload. To handle this, the section has taken on contract staff funded from the cost recovery. Most new applications are for recreation and tourism activities.

Canterbury Conservancy manages 406 concessions of the Department of Conservation’s national total of 3,558. This is one of the higher concession workloads amongst the 13 conservancies. The office has also handled a number of applications for filming in the last few months. These involve a considerable amount of work, often to tight time frames.

“The Vertical Limit” Feature Film

One such example has been processing a concession for “The Vertical Limit” feature film. Mountain High Productions Limited put in an application for several alpine areas in the Aoraki/Mount Cook area, Fiordland and Queenstown.

Concessions supervisor Andy Thompson says the concession was the largest DOC has ever handled, and required a full-time monitor to ensure film crew activities were not harmful to the environment. “We put in a comprehensive set of conditions, which included any measures the film company intended to take to remedy or mitigate the effects.”

Some locations that had been applied for such as Fiordland were not approved because of the potential effects to the environment. However most areas were approved and many guides who hold a concession in the area were employed in the movie. It also benefited the Hermitage at Aoraki/Mount Cook, which is not normally busy during the winter.

Tourism Operations

The Concessions team at the Conservancy is undertaking a project to help identify the type and extent of concession activities within Canterbury. The aim of this project is to assist the department in monitoring the degree of commercial effects from concession activities on conservation land. Rachael Hutchison from Lincoln University has kindly volunteered to undertake this project and has already made good progress. This work will provide valuable information to the department on the degree, size and scale of commercial tourism operations and compare these with overall recreational use.

The outcome of this project will produce an up to date database of concession activity details for the Canterbury Conservancy area, and a report that will show the activity and implications of commercial tourism operations on conservation land. Once completed a copy of this report will be made available to any who request it.

Otira Viaduct Opening

On 6 November 1999 the Otira Viaduct was opened by the Honourable Jenny Shipley and the oldest surviving road man, Eddie Evans. The occasion brought 3000 - 4000 people to the area to walk the new Viaduct and to drive the notorious zigzag one last time. The weather stayed fine for most of the day but the heavens opened up as Ms. Shipley began her speech.

The 5,000 cubic metre concrete structure took 30 months to complete and unlike most major projects came in under time and under budget. The next phase of the overall project is the construction of a new road down the Otira Gorge from Candies Bend.

The contractors for the Viaduct worked closely with DOC during the construction to lessen any impact their activities could have had on the National Park.

Whitebait Monitoring

The whitebait season ends on November 30, and for ranger Tony Woods of the North Canterbury Area office it has been a busy time. Although it has been a poor catch season, it has been very busy at the mouth of the Waimakariri River with many hopeful baiters.

The Area has received the usual complaints about non-compliance with the regulations. Acting on information received, Ranger Woods made a midnight trip to the Waimakariri River. He found keen types sitting up having a midnight cuppa, but ‘Oh No Mr Ranger’, definitely not with their nets in the river. Tony did a good chatty PR job, and by showing the flag, warned that DOC is on the alert at all hours.

Tony Woods and Robin Smith continued with roving tours of the whitebait ‘hotspots’. at Waiau and Hurunui Rivers. There have been problems with people jet boating in, putting out more than one net per person, then hooning off before they can be spoken to. Here too, they found as they strolled along the river that their friendly chats are an excellent public relations opportunity.

Nesting and Driving Don’t Mix

Conflict between birds nesting in braided rivers and off-road vehicles has prompted the Department of Conservation to ask the Motor Vehicle Dealers Institute for help.

The Canterbury Branch of the MVDI is distributing the Department of Conservation’s braided river care code to its members to place in off-road vehicles prior to sale.

Project River Recovery spokesperson Simon Heppelthwaite says the code explains how drivers can avoid disturbing birds in braided river areas. “Most of the conflicts occur because drivers are not aware there is a problem, so we are delighted the MVDI is supporting this conservation initiative.”

Braided rivers look like perfectly indestructible playgrounds for vehicles, but between August and February, they are fragile nurseries for many birds including threatened and endangered species. Bird nests, eggs and chicks are well camouflaged and can easily be squashed. However, by observing erratic swooping, circling or calling, people can recognise when they are disturbing birds. If they are disturbed from the nest for too long the eggs or chicks can become too hot, or too cold, and die.

Vandalism in remote areas

Recently public conservation land in the North Canterbury Area has been the target of vandals. In the historic Sign of the Packhorse Hut someone tried to lever the donations box off the wall. They then took the axe to it and the woodwork in the hut, and smashed five windows.

It is very disappointing that this unique asset has been thoughtlessly damaged. Being so close to the city numerous people use this free hut.

The stone hut was designed by Hurst Seagar and was the second of Harry Ells’ rest houses on the proposed Summit Road. Other rest houses along the road are the Sign of the Bellbird, Sign of the Kiwi, and Sign of the Takahe. Hurst Seagar was one of the earliest architects to design buildings with a distinctive New Zealand character. Built in 1916 the Packhorse was planned to harmonise and blend with the rugged landscape. The Summit Road was not formed to this area, and the hut stands in isolation below the summit of Mt Bradley.

The Parkinson family owned land in Kaituna Valley, and in 1916 donated land to the Crown, that became known as the Sign of the Packhorse Reserve. The Parkinson Memorial Park Trust contributes towards the maintenance of the hut. It is thanks to the Trust that the damaged windows have now been repaired.

Godley Head is an area that is often the target for vandalism because of its remoteness. Recently a stolen vehicle was driven through the fence, then screeched round in a tussock-wrenching wheelie and back through another part of the fence. Two posts were sheered off, and the wire broken. About $1000 worth of damage was incurred, not including the time taken for DOC staff to repair the damage. The police have been informed of this misdemeanour.

The Department of Conservation would appreciate any user giving the North Canterbury Area a call if they see any damage, or any one misusing facilities on public conservation land.


DOC offers Volunteer Holiday Programmes

Canterbury is offering a variety of conservation volunteer holidays this summer between December and March. In North Canterbury, hut wardens are needed at the Hope Kiwi Hut in January and February. Ranger Dave Milward says volunteers will also have the opportunity to monitor selected tracks in the area. “During most days volunteers will be able to go on walks and do other activities in the area, but they will also gain valuable experience in assessing recreational facilities in the area.”

Other programmes include kiwi listening surveys in Lewis Pass; threatened plant surveys near Twizel, native plant re-vegetation on Quail Island and track maintenance in Aoraki/Mount Cook. For more information and a copy of the holiday programmes available in Canterbury and throughout the country, contact Janine Gray 03 371 3742.

Toilet Cleaning

Department of Conservation staff has a range of duties – some pleasant, some onerous, and some downright mundane. One of the jobs that many back country users take for granted is the emptying of the sealed vault toilets which are gradually replacing the old long drops.

North Canterbury Area staff is now trained in the use of a vacuum effluent-sucking machine which will be used throughout Canterbury. The four holding tanks on the machine carry 500 litres each, and the whole unit can be stropped under a helicopter to fly into remote areas.

The task of cleaning the backcountry loos in the Hanmer area takes about two weeks. For this necessary but unpleasant task, staff operating the machine must wear protective clothing, and have hepatitis A and B shots.

DOC highlights fire risk at the A&P Show

The Canterbury Conservancy once again had a small stand at the recent Canterbury Show. This year DOC’s role in fire management was highlighted, as predictions are that it will be another long, hot, dry summer with the added risk of millennium celebrations thrown in.

Thanks to the Rangiora Fire Depot there was a pump and hose on display. Over the four days of the show eight DOC staff and one volunteer helped out on the stand. Subjects discussed with show visitors ranged from DOC’s role in resource management, to the Loch Katrine gate, to mohua, to Castle Hill plants.

Sandra Parkkali from the drafting section produced another great poster, in her display poster series style, on fire management for the stand. She has also produced an ad and poster on the fire risk over summer. As well as the fire poster DOC now has display posters on historic heritage management, Otukaikino Reserve, the Hurunui Mainland Island, seed source and plant communities in Canterbury, restoration projects, Project River Recovery and taking care in the back country.

If your group or organisation would like to borrow one for a specific time or event this can be arranged by contacting the Public Awareness section.

ends

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