A $20 million injection of government cash for 12 Northland environmental projects is a ''game-changer'' for jobs and nature protection in the region, conservation groups say.
The three-year funding programme, part of the Jobs for Nature scheme aiming to boost the post-Covid economy while benefiting the environment, is expected to create 324 full-time jobs.
Conservation Minister Kiri Allan made the announcement at Puketi Forest headquarters, 20km west of Kerikeri, yesterday.
The news was welcomed by volunteer groups who have spent decades trying to fight a tsunami of introduced pests with minimal resources.
An emotional Bay Bush Action trustee Craig Salmon said he had been trying to raise the alarm about collapsing Northland ecosystems for years but his appeals for government help had, until now, fallen on deaf ears.
''We've sweated our guts out to save what we think is special, and we've done it for nothing, so the animals will survive another year and breed, and the trees will still have leaves and maybe live another 1000 years.''
Salmon said the volunteers had felt a huge weight of responsibility to protect the forest, but the Jobs for Nature funding would lighten their burden by allowing the trust to employ five full-time staff and provide training.
The group had previously struggled to carry out pest control in one-fifth of Ōpua Forest but would now be able to cut 300km of new trap lines and cover the entire 2000ha forest.
''We needed help, and today that help has come. This is an absolute game changer for us and all the animals that live in the forest,'' Salmon said.
Puketi Forest Trust chairman Gary Bramley said he was spurred into action 18 years ago when he realised the forest had lost taonga species such as kākāriki, kākā and kokako in his lifetime. He had been fundraising and knocking on politicians' doors ever since.
''I didn't expect this day would ever come. It's the realisation of a long dream,'' he said.
Roger Kingi, who runs a pest-trapping project at Whangaroa Harbour, said government help was an unexpected blessing delivered by Covid-19.
''It has shut our borders to overseas tourists but it has also given us funding to look after our taiao [environment]. If it wasn't for Covid that money would be gathering cobwebs in Wellington,'' he said.
All 12 projects are partnerships with community groups or iwi already working to protect the environment. Projects include kauri protection, dune and wetland restoration, tree planting, and weed and pest control.
As well as creating 324 jobs over three years the scheme aims to upskill Northlanders for future employment, including in remote areas such as Mitimiti, Panguru and Te Hapua.
Allan said one project would employ 51 locals to carry out pest control in Puketi Forest; another would train Whangaroa youth to use traps and bait stations targeting stoats, cats, possums and pigs in 2300ha of bush.
''These are not any old jobs, these are jobs dedicated to improving our environment. We're losing biodiversity at a swift rate across the word but also here in Aotearoa. We need to ensure our 'clean green New Zealand' brand isn't just a slogan but something we live and breathe.''
Many of the people at Thursday's announcement had spent their lives volunteering, Allan said.
''Their hearts are breaking because they can't do more at a swifter pace. This is our opportunity to acknowledge the many thousands of hours they have spent preserving our taonga species and to enable then to train more people, the future generation of eco-warriors,'' she said.
■ Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi and its Kaitiaki Kauri project: $0.84m to safeguard kauri across the Bay of Islands.
■ Moemoea Puketi/Omahuta: $3.01m for predator and pest control, empowering hapū and Puketi Forest Trust to manage the forest.
■ Bay Bush Action: $0.7m to expand multispecies pest control in Ōpua Forest from 500ha to 2000ha.
■ Te Komanga Whangaroa: $2.06m to train local youth and enable 2300 ha of pest control.
■ Russell Ngāhere: $1.57m to implement 20-year Forest Health Plan.
■ Ngā Mana O Te Wai: $2.64m to expand restoration efforts in dunes, dune lakes, wetlands and rivers north of Kaitaia.
■ Two projects in Te Aupoūri rohe: $2.99m to address ecological pressures at key cultural, social and environmental sites.
■ Te Haumihi o Ngāti Kuri: $2.64m to create jobs and manage biosecurity management across Te Haumihi and Te Ara Whānui (Te Paki, Three Kings and Motuopao islands).
■ Warawara Whakaora Ake: $2.21m to expand predator control in Warawara Forest from 2000ha to 9000ha.
■ Taiororua o Waipoua: $0.76m for weed management along Waipoua River.
■ Whirinaki Awa Catchment project: $0.96m for ecological restoration and employment in Whirinaki.