15.09.11 00:33 Age: 8 yrs

Ranger service needed for cones

Category: Media

By: Friends of Maungawhau

From the top of Mt Eden the fireworks seemed to float above the city lights, while the dark crater, home to the deity Mataaho, dropped away at our feet.

Throngs of people had crowded the summit to celebrate the opening of the Rugby World Cup. Few perhaps realised that they were standing on a potential World Heritage site.

Our volcanoes are unique in the world, but not primarily for their "special physical significance" as Monday's editorial suggests. They were once a complex pre-European city: ancestral settlement sites that are sacred to Maori today. Auckland's volcanic field has been proposed for World Heritage status for its "mixed cultural and natural heritage" value, New Zealand's only entry in this Unesco category.

This month, councillor Sandra Coney remarked on the "shabby condition" of Auckland's maunga, 11 of which will be returned to Maori ownership under the Tamaki Makaurau Treaty settlement.

The Treaty deal and push for World Heritage nomination highlight the need for a new approach to managing the maunga.

Debates about whether the Department of Conservation should play a dominant role miss the point: DoC no longer takes a primary role in managing archaeological sites, and it is the Maori owners and guardians of the maunga who should drive change.

Co-governance by iwi and Auckland Council opens the way for a more inclusive and co-operative approach.

At present, council operations on the volcanic cones are contracted out and conservation volunteers suffer from a lack of council guidance and expertise on the ground.

The obvious solution is to extend the professional ranger service that operates so successfully in Auckland's regional parks to the volcanic cones.

The Friends of Maungawhau have advocated a ranger service for years.

"Rangers act as a link between the council and community," says chairperson Kit Howden. "They have skills and qualifications in land management, and are trained to solve practical problems. So they can assist volunteers as well as supervise contractors. A ranger service needs to be set up as quickly as possible. Getting young Maori people involved is crucial too."

Rangers promote an ethic of stewardship akin to the Maori concept of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship based on connection with the land and natural world. A dedicated ranger service for the maunga would fit well with the idea of communal responsibility, of working together for a common good. It would help to build the skills base needed for remedial work on the neglected and damaged cones.

And it would provide a more flexible, practical and cost-effective means of heritage park management than the wasteful bureaucratic approach of past administrations.

Under a new co-governance arrangement, and with an injection of government funding for the maunga as promised by Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson, the council has the opportunity to set up a ranger system and to support the volunteer community as never before.

Conservation volunteers possess a wealth of knowledge that is not always appreciated by the policy-makers. Groups such as the Friends of Maungawhau have put years of work into eradicating weeds, revegetating damaged ground, and dealing with innumerable challenges and setbacks.

In many protected areas and heritage parks elsewhere in the world, co-management arrangements that acknowledge and use the contribution of volunteers work extremely well. A co-operative and inclusive relationship between rangers and volunteers, council officers and Maori, is the best strategy on the ground and the way of the future.

Auckland Council is tasked with endorsing the Tamaki Collective Treaty deal before the election. Having passed the buck, the Government is now keen to gain kudos for the maunga as a tourist attraction.

As Mr Finlayson told the council, "Auckland would be the first city in the world to be an entire World Heritage site."

Surely the greatest benefit of gaining World Heritage status for the maunga will be their preservation and proper upkeep into the future. That depends on establishing a ranger service and giving volunteer groups a voice and real support.

This article originally appeared in the NZ Herald 0n 14 September 2011. Original article and comments here.

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