The Department of Conservation has closed its Onga Onga field base, which now means the nearest rangers to the eastern side of Ruahine Forest Park are based more than one hour away at Palmerston North or Napier.
Two rangers worked from the base and their positions have been relocated to Palmerston North, though Wilderness understands neither of the experienced rangers will be making the move.
Now, trampers in the region are worried that predator control work will suffer, and track and hut maintenance will be left more and more in the hands of volunteers.
Many trap lines in the park are monitored by trampers. In the past, getting more bait or new traps from the rangers at Onga Onga was a simple matter of calling ahead and stopping by the office. “We won’t be able to do that now,” said Julia Mackie, a member of the Ruahine User Group (RUG) and past president of the Napier Tramping Club. “We’ve lost that immediate response to any issues we have in the area.”
The closure comes as DOC announced two huts in the area – Sunrise and Rangiwahia – are to be added to the booking system and after it changed the backcountry track maintenance schedule in the eastern Ruahines from every four years to every six.
Janet Wilson from the Palmerston North Tramping and Mountaineering Club said: “Once trees come down on those tracks, I think it will be a long time before anyone gets to them.”
DOC’s Manawatu operations manager, Allanah Irvine, said the department’s infrastructure at Onga Onga was under-utilised because it previously provided office and workspace for eight staff, but many of these positions were relocated two years ago.
In a statement, Irvine said: “The [closure] means that both staff and their equipment will be at the most appropriate location for the effective delivery of work.”
But Mackie and other RUG members disagree and see the closure as a sign of neglect.
“I fear for the future of the backcountry huts and tracks in the park,” Mackie said. “For many years we have been battling it out with DOC, which has less taxpayer money going into its coffers. More and more I think tramping clubs are going to be doing more to help DOC out. That’s where things are going to go.”
Added Wilson: “It’s like DOC is the Department of Tourism in Fiordland, meanwhile the Ruahines are neglected.”