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An update from Director-General Lou Sanson - April 2020

An update from Lou Sanson

Tēnā koutou,

We are in challenging and uncertain times and we appreciate the anxiety this has created for our partners. Our thoughts are with those most effected both personally and professionally. 

There is more change ahead as we move to Alert Level 3 next week. That said, it has been an encouraging few days with the number of confirmed or suspected cases sitting in single figures. The road to elimination looks hopeful.

DOC’s priority is to support New Zealand in stopping the spread of COVID-19. To do this we set up a national Incident Management Team (IMT) and Regional IMTs to support our geographically spread staff.

While in Alert Level 4:

· We do not have any staff in the field.

· All DOC facilities and offices are closed, and tracks and national parks are out of bounds.

· Huts and campsites are also closed until further notice.

· Hunting on public conservation land is not permitted but hunting on private land is.

· We have arrangements in place for essential care services for threatened native species including kākāpō, and other sanctuaries. We continue to monitor and respond in specific situations, should safety issues arise. 

· All DOC staff not involved in emergency management teams are working from home. This includes rangers and other field staff.

Moving to Alert Level 3

Over the past week we have put significant effort on restarting our essential field work using a critical focus on health, safety and wellbeing as we plan for New Zealand to move from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3. This means from Tuesday 28 April we will be able to resume some limited fieldwork, but only where we can be assured of meeting MOH guidelines as well as our own health and safety requirements.

Recreation in the outdoors on public conservation land is still on hold and is essentially the same as at Alert Level 4, with a few minor changes. DOC Offices and visitor centres will remain closed during Alert Level 3. DOC staff who normally work in offices will continue to work from home.

I recognise that there are challenges for us all while these restrictions are in place and thank you for your perseverance.

Our priorities right now remain the same – to support New Zealand in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives. This means staying home to break the chain of community transmission of this deadly virus.

Shifting how we think about our Treaty partner responsibilities

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of sitting down with James Brown, Chair of Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, to discuss the implications of the Supreme Court decision in Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki Tribal Trust v Minister of Conservation [2018] NZSC 122. A year out from the decision, we reflected on what it has meant for each of us and our Treaty partner relationship, what we’ve done to address the implications of the case, and what we hope to achieve together going forward. We decided to create this video together to tell the story in partnership and ensure we bring others along on this journey.

Although it focused on concessions decision-making, at its heart the Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki case was about Treaty partnership. James and I agree that it requires a paradigm shift in the way DOC thinks about its responsibilities to Treaty partners in all the work we do. We are embracing the decision and are using it as a springboard for a reset of our DOC Kaupapa (our strategy on a page), and the partial reviews of the Conservation General Policy and General Policy for National Parks.

We hope this video will be a useful resource for other Treaty partners, staff and stakeholders more broadly.

We will remember them

While we could not stand together on ANZAC day in remembrance of our fallen, we stood at dawn at our letterboxes instead.

Similarly, on Tuesday 28 April, we will observe the 25th anniversary of the Cave Creek Disaster.


The tragedy, which took the lives of 13 Tai Poutini Polytechnic students and DOC Manager, Stephen O’Dea, when a viewing platform collapsed, is indelibly printed on the memories of all those affected. In the wake of this terrible event, failings were uncovered and lessons learned so that this will never happen again.

We will remember those who lost their lives and acknowledge the impact on their families and on the survivors, by having a minute’s silence at 11.25am on Tuesday. 

Looking ahead

DOC is involved in a range of local and national-scale initiatives, all with the aim of supporting New Zealand to recover at speed.

A ‘new’ New Zealand will emerge and it will be so much stronger as we position nature at the very heart of our future.  Working in partnership will be essential to this rapid recovery and revitalisation of our nation. We all have experience of working together, but there is an imperative to work more closely than at any other time in our history. You are not alone.

I am extremely proud of how the Department has responded to the challenges of the past five weeks and wish to reassure you, our team is here to support you too.

If there is anything you wish to discuss, please feel free to contact me directly on

Also, you can follow updates and DOC news at your own pace by following me on social media #DOCBoss .

Hei konei rā,

Lou Sanson Director-General—Tumuaki-Ahurei Department of Conservation—Te Papa Atawhai



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