A Human-Centered Approach to Designing an Invasive Species Eradication Program
Santo, Anna Ruth
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The increasing scope and speed of biological invasions around the world is a major concern of the modern environmental conservation movement. Although many ecological impacts of biological invasions are still not well understood, there is a general consensus that exotic, invasive species are a primary driver of extinctions globally. By altering ecosystem structure and function, invasive species also affect human quality of life; however, not all impacts lead to negative outcomes. Given that invasive species have diverse impacts on society, their management in human-dominated landscapes is a wicked problem wherein the resolution is as much an issue of social value as technical capacity. The purpose of my research was to understand the propensity for engaging private landowners in an effort to eradicate an invasive species on an inhabited island. Specifically, I investigated private landowner perspectives on eradicating the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) from the Tierra del Fuego (TDF) island archipelago in Argentina and Chile. The beaver was introduced in 1946 and has since become a central conservation issue due to its long-lasting changes to local hydrology, nutrient cycling, riparian vegetation, food webs, and aquatic and terrestrial species assemblages. Because eradication requires near complete cooperation from stakeholders and no research had been conducted to understand the perspectives or willingness of private landowners to cooperate, my objectives were to: 1) characterize the links private landowners make between the presence of beavers and impacts to the ecosystem services in their riparian areas, and 2) explore the role of a market-based incentive program to increase landowner cooperation in eradication efforts. Through semi-structured interviews, I elicited landowner mental models of how beavers impact the ecosystem services they receive from their riparian lands. I found that TDF ranchers prioritized provisioning ecosystem services, and held diverse and idiosyncratic beliefs about how beavers influence these outcomes. TDF ranchers may not recognize the beaver as a highly salient problem because they do not connect them to reductions in ecosystem services that are important to them. Among those who do perceive beavers affecting important ecosystem services, there is no clear, unified understanding of how the beavers disturb the ecosystem and key ecosystem services. Additionally, in a broadly administered survey, I used a factorial vignettes to examine the role of program structure and other program-related factors on landowners' willingness to participate in a voluntary eradication program. Overall, landowners were willing to cooperate in an incentive program to eradicate beavers. They were positively motivated by greater financial compensation, an increased expectation that the program would be successful, and the program assuming full responsibility for its implementation. Other factors returned mixed results indicating that further research may be required. In diverse, human-inhabited, and privately-owned landscapes, conservation requires collective action—i.e., the high threshold of participation needed for eradication to be achieved. Understanding the knowledge systems that cause landowners to perceive value or risk serves as a first step in understanding behaviors, and can also serve as a framework for crafting more effective outreach, as current communication about the beaver and the proposed eradication may not resonate with private landowners. Further, barriers to inaction can be overcome by understanding landowner needs and how program-related factors influence the potential for cooperation. In sum, by putting human needs at the forefront of program design, conservation planners can better understand stakeholder perspectives, reduce barriers to participation, and ultimately increase cooperation and improve conservation outcomes.
- Masters Theses