Rangitoto's leafy canopy owes much to the DOC team who saved it

One hand on his hip and another around a dying pohutukawa tree branch, Jim Henry was in no doubt of the job ahead of him and his team of Department of Conservation staff.

He also knew what it would mean to rid Rangitoto Island of the pests that were annihilating its pohutukawa, whose blanket of red bloom was disappearing as hungry possums and wallabies stripped their leaves bare.

Henry died in May last year but, as the world celebrated Arbor Day on Wednesday, former colleague Jonathan Miles told the Herald on Sunday that he could still see the glint in his boss's eye, 23 years after he led a campaign to eradicate pests from the island. The job would be tough, but Henry's expression made it clear that he and his team were up to it.

"He was a real character. He had his own personal touch and had a hell of a lot of respect from people who worked for him."


Several years later New Zealand Herald photographer David White, who snapped the original photo in 1990, returned to the island with Henry to see what difference the pest removal had made.

They couldn't find the spot where the 1990 photo was taken. With the possums and wallabies gone, White recalls, the island had reverted to a canopy of red and green.

Henry, who began his career in the New Zealand Forest Service before becoming a ranger in 1987, worked in the field as much as he was able.

"Jim and the office didn't go together. He just liked doing things."

South Island-born and bred, Henry returned to live in Christchurch in retirement - not that he really retired. He was still laying trap lines in the Craigieburn Range just before his death at age 71.

Rangitoto remained among his best work. As well as helping to revive the island's pohutukawa, the eradication of pests meant native birds could also make the volcanic island their home, says Miles.

"Just yesterday, we released New Zealand dotterel out there; the day before we released takahe and before that we released kiwi. That's the legacy of what he started."