Trainee rangers learn on the job
One of the most common questions people ask when meeting someone new is the age-old classic, ‘‘What do you do?’’.
The universality of the question shows in its vagueness, but of course, we all know that what is being queried is our work – our mahi.
When I give my own answer, that I’m a ranger for the Department of Conservation (DOC) here in the Marlborough Sounds, the usual reaction is one of curiosity, along with the follow-up question, ‘‘How on earth do you become a ranger?’’ It’s a hard one to answer.
All of us bush-whackers and conservators seem to have vastly different roots, professionally and otherwise. Having worked as a cheesemonger up until two years ago, I can testify to this. Amazingly, many of those skills have proved transferable, such as a penchant for fungi and a taste for adventure.
There is, however, a more formal and less pungent route to rangership, via Nelson-Marlborough’s Institute of Technology Trainee Ranger Certificate. Last week, we hosted this year’s batch of Olive Brigade hopefuls on our Queen Charlotte Sound islands to help us with some hard yakka.
The trainees turned up at our quarantine room in Picton on the Monday, seeming both excited and mildly apprehensive.
The week-long camping trip out on Blumine/Oruawairua Island is their longest trip of the course, which runs from June to June, and an opportunity for them to put their acquired skills to use in real-ranger context.
From our point of view, the annual trips function as an exchange. At this time of year, we often have some serious track-cutting to do on our pest-free islands, and the freshly-ticketed trainees are out to get some work experience before they go on to a two-year placement at various DOC offices around the country.
There are a limited number of these work placements offered at the end of the course, so there was a fair amount of amiable tension in the group, and the trainees seemed conscious of each others’ strengths.
As the week played out, and the five teams of three headed out with scrub bars, hand-saws and loppers to clear the tracks, their earnestness was clear.
Ferrying them across from Blumine/ Oruawairua to Long Island on the Tuesday morning, the yelps of delight at our dolphin escorts evidenced the mood. A few of the group had never seen dolphins before. It was a treat to watch.
At the end of the week, I walked one of the tracks they’d cleared to see their handiwork. In comparison to how it looked before, I might as well have been walking the red (or rather, green) carpet - if only rugby shorts and boots were the go-to attire for those affairs as well.
These DOC-only tracks are vital for checking our trapping networks on the islands, to protect them from pests which swim over from the mainland or hitch a ride on boats and visitors’ gear.
Now, I can safely say that the next check will be much quicker than the last, thanks to the trainees. Our rare birds and invertebrates which take refuge on these motutere/islands can rest easier.
After spending a week with the trainee rangers, who clearly see the kudos in the khaki, I’m inevitably left with a better idea of how answer to that age-old question – ‘‘How on earth do you become a ranger?’’
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as easy as a list of must-haves and must-dos. The best I can offer is to work as hard as your steel-capped boots, laugh in the face of sweat (or just get a faceful of the stuff), but most importantly, love our home, land and sea with all your might.