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The Social Side of Pest Management

Plans to manage pest species are becoming increasingly larger in scale and ambition. The outcomes of such programmes can have just as important impacts on the resident human communities as the plant and animal communities. Today in New Zealand protests and arrests took place outside the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary, after a legal appeal to prevent the spread of rat poison, had failed. When almost everyone in New Zealand agrees that these invasive predators must be managed, how do we end up in such a conflicted position as this?

Brook Waimarama Sanctuary
Brook Waimarama Sanctuary

The answer, it seems, is in the many details. Details such as how the predators are to be managed, who is to do the management, how they have engaged with the affected human residents, and how the human residents might be environmentally and socially impacted. In fact, social scientists, like environmental scientists, have developed a form of impact assessment to address precisely such questions. As well as considering the environmental impacts of a proposal, we can also consider the social impacts. Social impact assessment provides a framework for undertaking precisely such an analysis, and last month I posted a pre-print paper on social assessment on inhabited islands on the Social Science Research Network demonstrating the potential of social impact assessment for pest eradication programmes, with a case study undertaken by Jo Aley on the islands with human communities of the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand.

Islands with human communities of the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand
Islands with human communities of the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand

Pre-print servers such as SSRN provide an opportunity for researchers to make their results available as fast as possible, which is why I have chosen to use them to share these exciting results as fast as possible, prior to their formal publication. I also posted a related paper on the potential for strategic environmental assessment to assist invasive species management planning on inhabited islands. This work followed a presentation to the New Zealand Association for Impact Assessment and the Island Invasives 2017 conference in Scotland.

James Russell speaking at the Island Invasives 2017 conference
James Russell speaking at the Island Invasives 2017 conference about strategic environmental assessment

From spending more and more time working at the intersection of natural and social values, I am sure that predator management programmes such as Predator Free New Zealand are “as much of a social challenge as it is a biological challenge”. It is for this reason that later this month I will be traveling to Rakiura, New Zealand’s southern-most inhabited island, to explore further some of the issues around how predator eradication impacts island residents.

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