Mt Taranaki’s pests be warned – Tama Blackburn has been busy.
Mr Blackburn is a Department of Conservation (DOC) Ranger in Taranaki, and like all of DOC’s staff, he’s currently working from home during the COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown. Although he’s normally out on the mountain, he’s turned his hands to constructing more than 110 traps to target stoats and ferrets living there.
In the days before the lockdown, Mr Blackburn collaborated with Taranaki Mounga Project Manager Sean Zieltjes and DOC Supervisor Jared Coombes to stockpile timber and other materials to produce the traps – including the familiar DOC200s. Mr Blackburn covered off all relevant health and safety processes to work from home before he started.
Mr Blackburn refined his trap construction method to make the build process faster every time.
“I didn’t really focus on speed when building the traps – I was focussing on quality and safety. I’d get the odd piece of wood that didn’t play along, but other than that it was quite easy to sit down and get stuck into it,” he says.
“As a field ranger, our main tasks involve traversing hills carrying monitoring equipment and traps, setting them up, trouble-shooting problems on the spot, and removing the equipment when not needed. So when you do that four or five times a week, and averaging about 10kms per day, you appreciate a well-made device, whatever that may be.”
The finished traps will go live when the hundreds of local volunteers can return to servicing the traplines on the mountain.
“It’s really satisfying to be able to give these traps to our volunteer groups. This has been a good chance to get ahead of their needs. The traps will be placed around some new tracks on the Pouakai Range, where we’ve got some mustelid control underway.”
The traps Tama has built will add to the 4700 traps already within Egmont National Park, contributing to ongoing protection of species including western brown kiwi, North Island robin/ toutouwai and blue duck/whio.
“Tama likes to keep busy and jumped at the chance to make trap boxes which will all be set on our mounga,” says Mr Zieltjes. “Restoring Koro Taranaki is important to Tama and his whānau, and these traps will make a massive impact to help achieve this goal.”
“Our rangers are keeping themselves busy; from collating the data from recent toutouwai monitoring, checking for possums on our sensor cameras, building traps and working with Wild for Taranaki, to delivering virtual classes Taranaki kids.”
DOC’s Taranaki Operations Manager Gareth Hopkins says the rapid transition to working from home has been unusual for his staff, but they have responded well.
“Tama and the rest of the Taranaki team have been able to stay productive and diligent in a completely different working environment in unique circumstances, and that’s a testament to the positivity and flexibility of our team,” Mr Hopkins says.
Taranaki Mounga Project is a partnership between the Taranaki Iwi Chairs Forum, Department of Conservation (DOC) and philanthropic investor NEXT Foundation, supported by founding sponsors TSB Community Trust, Shell New Zealand, Jasmine Social Investments and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.
Article by Jeff Neems, DOC Communications Advisor