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Windthrow is a natural part of NZ’s forest dynamics

Windthrow is a natural part of NZ’s forest dynamics of catastrophe-regeneration. Thousands of hectares are levelled every year in our public conservation land forests and have done so for millenia. It is a part of the natural forest cycle in this windy country. Yet we do not intervene to sell the fallen timber in protected forests, any more than harvest kiwi, as it is as natural as the wind and rain. We allow indigenous nature to run wild and free. That is what conservation land is all about.

Ruahine

A dead tree is as valuable as a live one to the functioning of a forest, with up to half the wood being dead or rotting in a typical healthy forest ecosystem. This is what a forest is.

Thousands of species rely on the continual cascade of dying wood for their survival, and on the fertility and energy that is recycled back into the system. Such wood may come from the gradual decline of trees, limb breakage, or more catastophic destruction from windthrow, landslides or disease. This is all part of natural forest dynamics. An area of windthrow is still forest in the long term functioning of such an ecosystem. If the dead wood is not protected, then nor is the forest in the most fundamental sense.

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Snapper’s grassy beginnings

Snapper are one of New Zealand’s most popular fishes, and are highly sought after – both recreationally and commercially. They are found around the shallow waters of the North Island, making them an ideal fishing target.

Snapper, photo by Kirstie Knowles

The Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland, is one of the largest harbours in the world. It is a large estuary, and supports fish, oysters, mussels and scallops. Seagrasses play an important role in these estuarine ecosystems.

They provide a nursery habitat for fish, help to stabilise the sediment by trapping sand and mud around their roots, and transfer nutrients between the seabed and the ocean above it, as the grasses grow.

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Here’s to saving the Mackenzie

The Mackenzie Country is for many of us one of the reasons why we love this country so much.

The Mackenzie's green stain. Photo: Peter Scott.

The Mackenzie’s green stain. Photo: Peter Scott.

But those of us who have been there recently will know that it’s also a part of New Zealand that’s disappearing fast. The Mackenzie is being turned from a hundred shades of brown – which looks so much better than it sounds – to a dystopian green, like a landscape from a Dr Seuss book. Across large areas of the Basin, irrigators are transforming tussock to pasture, a process that can never be reversed.

Because the Mackenzie’s landscape is such a part of our shared by so sense of who we are, it appears regularly as a popular culture icon. For instance lots of 0000 and 1111s were shed in a computer-simulated battle that Peter Jackson staged there for one of his Lord of the Rings films. And the beauty of the Mackenzie inspires the central character in Laurence Fearnley’s The Hut Builder to tackle his grief. The Mackenzie’s vistas also earn the region – and the country – plenty, as they help attract tourists here

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Our amazing flat-faced patiki

In lakes, rivers and estuaries throughout New Zealand, groups of aquatic flying carpets are mobilising and moving downstream towards the sea.  Late autumn marks the time when a special species of New Zealand flatfish – the freshwater black flounder or patiki – embarks upon a spawning migration to the sea, with juveniles re-entering freshwater and migrating back upstream a few months later.

Despite their cute appearance, black flounder are ferocious predators of small fish. Photo: Alton Perrie

The black flounder (Rhombosolea retiaria) is a truly fascinating native freshwater fish species.  They are found mostly in freshwater, in lakes and streams close to the coast, although they have been known to travel as far as 250km inland!

They also complete migration-like movements in marine environments, some of which can be astonishingly large – one flounder that was tagged during a research study in the Wairarapa turned up in Taranaki a number of months later!

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Pest-free Stewart Island comes one step closer to becoming reality

New Zealand leads the world in clearing pests, however until now DOC has talked gingerly about the obvious next hurdle:  clearing pests from inhabited islands. Until now….

For fifteen years people have talked about getting pests off Stewart island (popn = 380), and five years ago a feasibility study was done to determine whether this is possible.

Oban – Stewart island’s only township will be surrounded by a predator proof fence first to cordon off the most sensitive area, and get locals accustomed to the bio-security measures that will be put in place. After that, the rest of the island (170,000 ha) will be cleared of pests. Click to enlarge

It wasn’t until businessman and philanthropist Gareth Morgan took the reins one year ago that this whole project has been swung into fifth gear. Since he took on this uber project, he has conducted an anonymous poll to determine firstly whether Stewart islanders wanted to rid the island of their rats, feral cats and possums.

The poll came back emphatically in favour of the idea: 84% of the respondents said ‘yes’. Re-envisioning this island (NZ’s third largest) as a bird-filled paradise with kiwi walking down Oban’s main street and kakapo sitting in the trees appealed not just to conservationists, but also tourism operators in an island where there are few economic opportunities.

Indeed, an appetite for biodiversity restoration already exists in some parts of the community – after all, the community ‘demanded’ that the invading rat population on Ulva Island was re-eradicated in 2011.

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Duncan come home!

**Newsflash** Duncan was caught and happily returned to his home yesterday afternoon (May 15th). To go to the TV One news report – see here – http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/story-duncan-kokako-comes-close-video-5437943 

In 2011, Duncan – our endangered kokako – disappeared from our pest controlled sanctuary in the Waitakeres and two years later he has turned up in suburban Glendowie. Yes, that’s thirty one kilometres from his home.

Duncan come home!

As you’ll know kokako aren’t great fliers, so great mystery surrounds why he decided to take this flight of fancy across motorways and highways, and why Glendowie seems to be his resting spot.

Fortunately for Duncan, he seems to be surrounded by friends. He was discovered by a birder in the region who spotted this endangered bird (only 750 pairs to its name) and called DOC to establish his origins.

Many of the people in the neighbourhood are keen birders and Tiritiri Matangi supporters, so they’ve done a mail drop and they’re keeping a close eye on his whereabouts, and their cats.

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The secret life of our bluegill bully

Beneath the water’s surface, in a stream or river near you, a tiny native fish is searching for a rock. It has to be the right size and shape, in the right location in the stream and the right orientation to the current. It also has to be defended from all the other little fish currently on the hunt for the perfect rock!

The magnificent bluegill bully. Photo: Alton Perrie.

The bluegill bully (Gobiomorphus hubbsi), one of New Zealand’s lesser known native fish is preparing for autumn spawning. Bluegill bullies are a stocky, tubular fish, sandy to dark brown/black in colour with blotchy markings and distinctive dark spots on their cheeks. They get their name from the brilliant, iridescent blue band that is visible on their gills. Bluegill bullies are the smallest of New Zealand’s seven bully species, with most adults growing only to around 50-60 mm in length.

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Saving a Giant

New Zealand has joined a worldwide club – a club of countries battling serious forest pathogens.  From ash dieback in the UK to the deaths of chestnut trees in North America, elms in Europe and North America, cedar in Oregon, plantation pines in Chile, up to 40% of the native flora of Australia and then to us – where an organism too small to see is killing our largest tree the kauri (Agathis australis).

It’s been called “kauri dieback”. For kauri it’s the latest threat to its existence following browsing by exotic pests, clearance for farmland, and logging for timber.  In the 1800’s the kauri resource was regarded as endless.  Clearly that was not true but it must have seemed so with hundreds of thousands of hectares of this most massive tree growing in dense, even-aged stands.  Only 1% of kauri forest remains.  So a new threat is really the last thing the giant kauri needs.

Kauri that are affected by kauri dieback

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DOC Restructuring – a breach of trust with the West Coast

Restructuring the Department of Conservation (DOC) is a breach of trust with the West Coast. It also betrays all the other remote and rural parts of New Zealand that have small populations but large areas of conservation lands.

DOC manages one third of NZ, 8,802,673 hectares, as public conservation land on behalf of all New Zealanders. In doing this it honours commitments made by generations past who created a National Parks and Reserves network that remains the envy of the world. Protection of conservation land also upholds the promise we make to our children. We are the guardians for future generations of the unique native plants, native animals and natural landscapes that make NZ special.

DOC also upholds a special relationship between the people of NZ and the West Coast. 83% of the West Coast is public protected conservation land, 1.896 million hectares out of the 2.277 million hectare West Coast land area.  West Coast conservation land makes up 22% of all conservation land in NZ and roughly one third of our NZ National Park land area.

Conservation protection has occurred in distinct stages over the last 120 years and each stage has been actively debated. The resulting protection decision was always accompanied by a Government commitment to adequately manage those protected lands both for conservation and as key areas for recreation and tourism. Each parcel of protected land has been fought for - on the West coast it started with Arthur’s Pass National Park (1929) with our most recent additions being Kahurangi National Park (1996) and Timberlands native forest (2002).

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PCE echoes calls for a moratorium on commercial long-fin eel harvesting

On Friday  of last week the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) released a report recommending an immediate cessation of the commercial harvest of the longfin eel, along with the urgent implementation of additional measures to halt the decline of this species.

Get the picture? Our longfin eel population will slowly go extinct if we don’t halt commercial harvesting of this special native species. Please note: these graphics have been sourced from the PCE’s latest report. Click to enlarge the picture.

The New Zealand longfin eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii) has been increasingly in the limelight in recent years due to concerns about its conservation status that have been raised by freshwater ecologists, fisheries interests and the general public.

Concerns have increased and spread, particularly regarding the fact that the longfin eel (an endemic, declining species) is still being commercially harvested, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting that the fishery is unsustainable.  In March of this year, a large group of people (including many groups of schoolchildren) marched on parliament to deliver a petition signed by 7000  New Zealanders, demanding a moratorium on the commercial exploitation of this species.  Last week, the PCE publically added its voice to this demand.

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