What is the Department of Conservation (DOC)?

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Department of Conservation – it sounds boring but stick with me! If you haven’t heard of them (maybe by their more common name “DOC”), then you’ve definitely still benefited from the work they do for us Kiwis. As you are travelling around New Zealand, it’s difficult to miss the iconic yellow and green signs from the DOC. But what exactly is the DOC?

DOC is the government agency who are in charge of conserving New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage. Their purpose is Papatūānuku Thrives – essentially meaning Mother Earth flourishes. Through protecting and maintaining New Zealand’s natural heritage, and ensuring more people get outdoors, DOC aims to make New Zealand the greatest living space on Earth.

DOC is probably the most prominent on backpacking travels around New Zealand due to the excessive walking, sight-seeing and wildlife-viewing that backpackers and working holidaymakers like to do in NZ. It is usually DOC that is keeping the walking trails maintained, looking after most backcountry huts on multi-day hikes, and doing measures of pest control to protect native wildlife species.

It doesn’t take long in New Zealand to spot a DOC walking track sign. Every walking/tramping track is well sign-posted; with an indication of the time it will take to get to the next checkpoint. The DoC also oversees the maintenance of tracks. But DOC look after more than the walks in NZ. They are also in charge of conservation of preserving wildlife, marine reserves, monitoring pest control, and protecting historic buildings.

DOC works to keep threats and impacts on native wildlife to a minimum. Most wild introduced animals in New Zealand are considered pests to DOC due to their negative impact on the native ecosystem. A few pest species include possums, cats, dogs, rats, and stoats. These can be known to threaten native plant life, affect forest health, and impact the birds there such as kiwis. In an attempt to manage the populations of these introduced pests, they set up pest control methods. DOC’s methods consist of fencing off animals from certain areas and, for example, ban pets from specific areas. DOC is also an expert in, well, killing things with traps and poisons used as a way to minimise the populations of pests.

Beyond that, DOC’s marine reserves protect marine life from being wiped out through fishing and other disturbances, so we are able to see rare wildlife living in its natural habitat. Recreational activities like snorkelling, boating, scuba diving and kayaking are still permitted in New Zealand’s marine reserve, however, there is a no-touch/no-take policy where you cannot remove anything from the marine reserve.

Although the DOC is government-funded, their budgets are usually too low for the amount of work needed to conserve New Zealand’s nature and history. For that reason, they often look for volunteers to help with their projects. Volunteer opportunities often include pest trap monitoring, hut and camp wardens, planting, beach clean-ups and much more.

DOC sometimes get a bad name for the measure they take to keep NZ looking beautiful. But whether you like them or not, DOC plays a big part in the beauty that surrounds us everywhere we go in Aotearoa.

Critical Thinking Questions:

  1. Why are possums a threat in NZ?
  2. Why is it important to keep walking tracks maintained?
  3. What would happen if we did not have DOC?

Practical Thinking Questions:

  1. What is a walk you have done where you noticed a DOC sign?
  2. Have you ever seen a DOC worker before? What were they doing?
  3. If you have time to volunteer for DOC, consider following this link to find out more: https://nzpocketguide.com/volunteer-department-conservation-new-zealand/
  4. If you don’t have time to volunteer – then simply do your part – keep tracks free of litter and follow the rules that DOC put up in your favourite areas in nature.
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