There are around 970 huts on the conservation estate, a fantastic recreation resource unrivalled anywhere in the world. But it’s a resource that has proven too difficult for the Department of Conservation to fully manage. Many huts, particularly remote backcountry ones, have been neglected and no longer provide shelter from the storm. So the news that Dulux is to provide 54,000 litres of paint and timber coating products worth around $1.5m over three years to help DOC maintain these icons of our backcountry is brilliant.
But something just doesn’t quite add up to me. In the first year of the deal – from now until late summer 2014 – DOC says just 27 huts will be painted. Assuming that rate of painting continues for the following two years, a mere 81 huts will be painted over the three-year term of the deal – not even 10 per cent of the current stock. Its hard to fathom how this equates to $1.5m worth of paint.
Of course, things can be expected to go slow at the start and it’s more than likely come 2014 and 2015 DOC will have sorted the logistics and will be in a position to paint many more than the 27 it will paint this year. Even so, it would need to average more than 1.3 huts each day in the final two years to ensure each and every hut is painted – as implied by the original media release and by Dulux itself, which has assured Wilderness the quantity of paint to be supplied is enough for every hut to be painted.
I guess somewhere along the way, the practicalities of painting the huts was put aside in order to secure a deal worth shouting about.
Compounding matters is the regular restructuring of DOC. In 2012, around 90 jobs were lost and on March 26 this year, DOC announced another restructure, this time affecting operations staff (details of the restructure were not available to Wilderness at time of going to print, however more job losses were certain). With fewer and fewer staff, is it any wonder that DOC has set its sights so low by painting just 27 huts in the first year?
There’s no secret DOC is trying to do more with less. A quick visit to DOC’s website will demonstrate this. The department has established a page asking for volunteers to help it use up the 54,000 litres of paint donated by Dulux by painting huts or suggesting huts to be painted. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s a great initiative if it gets hut users involved because those of us that use huts can no longer just sit on the sidelines if we want to ensure they are still here for future generations to enjoy. But what would be even better is if government actually resourced DOC enough to allow it to take maximum advantage of such deals as that negotiated with Dulux and not have to rely on armies of volunteers.
That way, instead of restructuring, DOC could start redeploying. Those operations staff set to lose their jobs in the March 26 restructure should be offered a paint brush and the chance to paint backcountry huts, with the help of any volunteers who put their hand up.
Head to www.doc.govt.nz if you want to find out how you can help paint a hut.