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Published: 2007-04-20 00:00:00

He will miss cups of tea with customers. He will miss people’s dedication and enthusiasm for conservation projects. He will miss visiting schools and working with kids.

But after 37 years in the animal pest control industry, Te Aroha man Roger Smith reckons it’s time to retire.

Mr Smith, who joined Environment Waikato as an animal pest control officer in 1989 and moved to contract work in 1998, was acknowledged last Friday with a special presentation at the council’s Biosecurity Committee meeting in Hamilton.

“You have brought a great sense of humour over the years and played a great role in the community relationships you’ve worked through in the Thames-Coromandel area and we really appreciate that,” committee chairman David Peart said.

Coromandel councillor Arthur Hinds paid tribute to the “wonderful rapport” Mr Smith had built up with peninsula people.

“We’re losing a lot of experience, not only with your trapping and poisoning skills but with your people skills,” he said. “It’s been great being involved with you.”

The committee also acknowledged Mr Smith’s wife Robyn for the support role she had played in the contract and thanked her for her huge contribution.

Mr Smith said most locals didn’t know what an “incredible job” Environment Waikato did on the peninsula.

“It’s brilliant the way EW works with DOC and community groups – that doesn’t happen in all regions. Look at all the pest control work that’s been done for the Peninsula Project and around Moehau and Port Charles. People up there say it’s very rare to see a possum now and there are plans to liberate robins, saddlebacks and possibly kokako in the next few years.”

Mr Smith, a keen hunter and fisherman from an early age, joined the New Zealand Forest Service when he left school, where he was trained to control rabbits and possums.

He joined Piako County Council as a pest destruction officer in 1970 and during his tenure he headed a Task Force Green team that built the popular Wairere Falls walkway near Matamata.

“Everything was carried up on the shoulder. It took us two years hauling power poles, railway irons and bags of cement in.”

Mr Smith joined Environment Waikato when the regional council took over responsibility for animal pest control in 1989. He has been based in Te Aroha ever since, providing advice, support and equipment for people wanting to control pests on their properties.

He has also carried out pest control at key ecological sites.

Some things have changed in the industry – the training is better, there are more safety regulations and you can’t wander over farmers’ land without permission any more – but some things have stayed the same.

“Two hundred years ago you could trap, poison or shoot an animal and today we’ve still got the same tools – just updated versions. Bait stations have been the biggest leap in technology.”

Mr Smith said one of the best things about his job was seeing Coromandel people take on conservation.

“If we want future generations to see native birds, geckos and skinks as they’re supposed to be, we should be willing to bite the bullet and put the money towards it and that’s what people are doing.

“The trees in areas like Onemana, for example, are pristine now thanks to work by community groups. It really looks like future generations are going to be able to hear kiwis and other native birds on the peninsula and that’s fantastic.”

After Mr Smith’s contract with Environment Waikato ends on June 30, he and Robyn are planning to tour New Zealand in their motor home.

“There will be a lot of things I’ll miss about my job, but we’re going to get in that bus and go while we’re still fit enough to do it,” Mr Smith said.