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Conservation projects offer win/win for Queenstown's tourism workers hit hard by Covid-19

With a lack of tourists in town, some of those in Queenstown left unemployed by the coronavirus pandemic are helping to get rid of an unwanted import.

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With a lack of tourism in town, they’re headed to the hills to help get rid of unwanted import. Source: 1 NEWS

Lee Saunders owns a luxury guiding business, but for now he has a new day job by helping out on some of the Government’s new conservation projects.  

“It's good fun, you know, fresh air and sun… It's a bit frosty in the mornings but that's OK.”

He's one of a new team about to take on wilding pines in Skipper's Canyon, comprised of many needing new employment from the tourism industry.

Central wilding tree control manager Amon Saunders says he’s doubled his number of employees from 10 to 20.

He’s now looking to add another 10 new people to the project, all thanks to new funding dished out by the Government in March as part of their Covid-19 fallout response.

The conversation work in Skipper’s Canyon is one of 55 new projects deployed around New Zealand to help improve the environment with funding from the Government.

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Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says the new plan has proven great for tourist hotspots like Queenstown, which is “full of people who love working in the great outdoors”.

“They live for the challenge and I think, given the good supervision and good training, the opportunity to come out here and kill wilding pines is something they will embrace with enthusiasm.”

Central Otago has been plagued by wilding pine problems since the gold rush era more than 150 years ago.

Authorities say if the trees are left to grow unmanaged in New Zealand’s native bush, the species would completely dominate our forests.

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 “We leave them unmanaged and ultimately a quarter of New Zealand would become invaded by wilding conifers over the next 20 years,” says wilding conifer programme manager Sherman Smith.

Projects like these are being welcomed in the region, with economists suggesting thousands of jobs would be at risk if nothing was done.

The National Party has said it’s a sound objective, and now the mayor's keen to encourage more projects around the region.

“This is only step one. There will be other job creation programmes in place as well. We're very much hoping that we will be successful with the Government shovel-ready proposals and those on their own could create around 1600 jobs,” says Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult.

For now, at least, these workers are happy with the new office, and grateful to be employed.