What started as a memorial fund 37 years ago, today provides a collective value of work in the order of $500,000 per annum to conservation if volunteer effort is included.
Project Tongariro is one of many stories of the transformation of a community conservation initiative. It's also a tangible example of how our community engagement role has shifted away from mainly leading to enabling and supporting others.
Former DOC conservator for Tongariro Taupo and DOC representative on the society's committee since 1986, Paul Green has seen the society's evolution both inside and outside of DOC. These days he is president of Project Tongariro and "delighted to have the opportunity to work from the community perspective."
Project Tongariro, Department of Corrections, Rongomai Hapu and Conservation Minister at the time, Hon. Nick Smith, celebrate funding from the DOC Community Fund at Te Matapuna Wetlands , 2015.
Project Tongariro (legal name Tongariro Natural History Society) was originally formed after four National Park rangers were killed in helicopter crash in December 1984. A memorial fund was established thanks to two family bequests says Paul and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the former Lands and Survey department. "It's been maintained in good faith to this day and probably one of the oldest such agreements DOC has had."
Initially the organisation was based on producing publications like a Park Handbook, utilising the memorial fund for publishing on the basis the memorial fund was repaid. Members also volunteered to assist on summer programmes.
But the 1990's, as DOC Conservator, Paul approached the Society to be an active conservation group raising money and undertaking projects in Tongariro National Park and its environment. "There was no such group at the time."
Project Tongariro "accepted this challenge" and undertook projects like restoring Waihohonu Hut, located on the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk. Paul also invited the President of the Golden Gate National Park Association to Tongariro to share his experiences with members and DOC staff.
When Project Tongariro appointed a part time coordinator we provided office space. As the Society grew and undertook more conservation work and fundraised for projects, the Conservancy provided a grant that funded Project Tongariro's administration. "This was the key" stresses Paul "because it is relatively easy to fund projects but very difficult to fund staff and overheads. By DOC funding $20,000, Project Tongariro was able to provide $100,000 -200,000 for conservation work.
Paul Green (far right) and Project Tongario volunteers with newly designed signs for Lake Rotopounamu loop walk
"When we could no longer make this commitment Project Tongariro was proven enough to gain admin support from the broader community." These days the Society has four part time staff with DOC still providing office space. "Sharing office space has also enabled our staff to become comfortable with our capabilities and test community conservation initiatives with us. We are also able to assist with DOC projects where additional help is needed –like heather control and dactylanthus surveys."
Paul adds that as they have become involved operationally involved in conservation they've needed "more proactive management in accordance with strategic plans rather than decisions being made at bi monthly executive meetings. "We have had to develop policies and plans such as health and safety, strategic plan and a marketing plan."
He believes the most significant change in the Society's evolution is the amount of volunteer days spent on tasks like predator control, wetland restoration and planting. "Also important is the role that Project Tongariro has been able to play in initiating additional conservation in the community through programmes like Greening Taupo, Kids Greening Taupo, and Predator Free Taupo. In monetary terms the collective value of work is likely to be in the order of $500,000 per annum if volunteer effort is included."