Trainee rangers learn on the job

Marlborough Midweek - - FRONT PAGE - RAE LEREW, BIO­DI­VER­SITY RANGER

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.

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