Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says a "hugely ambitious" project on the West Coast will help generate jobs for a region hit especially hard by the economic and emotional impact of Covid-19.
It comes as Breakfast this week highlighted the devastating impact of the pandemic on the region.
"Sad to hear their reflections of the community and, indeed, that was the sentiment there," Allan told Breakfast.
The Labour MP said the Predator-Free South Westland project, announced in Franz Josef yesterday, will see $45 million go towards the elimination of possums, rats and stoats from the area in the "first ever predator-free programme that we've targeted at this scale".
The "hugely ambitious" project, spanning over 100,000 hectares of land with the South Westland catchment, is expected to generate 50 jobs over five years.
It follows a recent trial in the nearby Perth Valley, which employed "around 18, 19 people" to work on 12,000 hectares over four and a half years.
"This is upscaling [the Perth Valley project], noting that this particular area has been really hard-hit by Covid," she said.
Allan said the Jobs for Nature programme was established "to be able to pick people up who have been impacted by Covid, who have lost their jobs and facilitate future-focused work in areas such as Franz, such as South Westland, that have really felt the trauma of Covid".
The five-year project ensures towns such as Franz Josef and Glacier Country can "retain its capability" and keep people who are "real assets, because they are the volunteers of the firefighting community, they are on the school boards".
"It's probably really about trying to think about the community as much as it is about those other legacy things like predator-free and what that will mean to New Zealand later on."
She said Covid-19 has provided the Government an opportunity to rethink "the way that we're engaging our environment, what tourism might look like once people come back into the country and how conservation plays a big part".
Allan said, however, that it is "just one project in the landscape of many".
"This is something we've been really focused on as a Government," she said, adding that such initiatives have "support across the political divide".
"We want to hear the karanga of the kiwi pecking throughout our forests again."