Northland conservation project offers helping hand to at-risk youth willing to 'live clean'

The work involves clearing 50 hectares of wilding pines around Taharoa Domain.
The work involves clearing 50 hectares of wilding pines around Taharoa Domain. Photo credit: Northland Regional Council

A conservation project in Northland is providing a number of career opportunities for at-risk youth in the region.

The project, which is aimed at protecting rare dune lakes from destructive wilding pines, has so far seen six young people travel from Kaikohe to take up full-time work.

The work involves clearing 50 hectares of wilding pines around Taharoa Domain, home of the popular Kai Iwi Lakes. 

The trees block the light and water needed by native plants and animals, and also threaten local food-gathering sites.

Before heading off to work, the youth undertake a 16-week training programme, where they learn a variety of skills, such as safe handling of machinery and forest vehicles, safe chemical use, mapping and tree classification.

The project is organised by the Northland Regional Council, local iwi, Kaipara District Council, the Department of Conservation and RecruitMe NZ.

Because of the nature of the work, all employees undertaking the work must "live clean" of alcohol and drugs, says Matiu Tane, an operations support worker at RecruitNZ.

He says it's a great way to enhance the mana of at-risk youth in the area.

"All I see in my people is tremendous potential.  We want to offer solutions and hope to our people rather than going on about what’s wrong."

"Work brings some consistency and structure, structure brings good habits, habits bring a type of mana to them.  They’re earning money, they’re organised, they can go off to work and tell their whānau and peers that they’re part of this project." 

Tane says two forestry crews are currently working on cutting the wilding pines, with more planned for the future.

The Government allocated $10 million of its Budget to tackle wilding pines, in a 10-year project to protect farmland, water availability and biodiversity.

In May, $1 million was also earmarked to assist Northland forestry workers affected by COVID-19 job losses.

The project at Taharoa Domain is Northland's pilot site for the National Conifer Control Programme. 

Although wilding pines are causing less damage in Northland compared to the South Island, they still don't belong in the area, says Penny Smart, chair of Northland Regional Council. 

"These pines are also a big infrastructure problem when they colonise our roadsides and will cost more to deal with later if they’re left to multiply," Smart said.