The Management of Feral Pig Socio-Ecological Systems in Far North Queensland, Australia

Gabriela Shuster (2012)

The development of management programs for socio-ecological systems that include multiple stakeholders is a complex process and requires careful evaluation and planning. This is particularly a challenge in the presence of intractable conflict. The feral pig (Sus scrofa) in Australia is part of one such socio-ecological system. There is a large and heterogeneous group of stakeholders interested in pig management. Pigs have diverse effects on wildlife and plant ecology, economic, health, and social sectors.

This study used the feral pig management system as a vehicle to examine intractable conflict in socio-ecological systems. The purpose of the study was to evaluate: (a) stakeholder beliefs and values about pig management, (b) stakeholder socio-political relationships, and (c) how stakeholder relationships impact management practices. I used an action research approach that included the collection of oral histories, individual interviews, sociograms, participant observation, and a survey to investigate the socio-political relevance of pigs to hunters, growers, managers, government representatives, and traditional land owners in the Cassowary Coast Council of Far North Queensland. Data was collected between 2007-2009.

Despite differences in values and beliefs, I found that stakeholder groups all consider management outcomes resulting in pig control acceptable. There are multiple socio-political barriers that impede successful application of management strategies. These barriers include poor communication, competing stakeholder social structures, limited resources, and property access. Additionally, illusory barriers compound conflict and are tied to the influence of negative stereotypes on stakeholder behavior. The use by managers, of traditional management practices focusing on equilibrium resilience, conflicts with the more ecological resilience oriented practices of other stakeholders. The result is a division of the landscape that leads to poor management outcomes.

This study describes useful tools for the engagement of stakeholders. Frame analysis can clarify the values and positions of stakeholders and suggests strategies for reframing intractable conflicts. The evaluation of stakeholder social structures provides information about the social context of management issues. It is important to operationalize participation and determine the amount of participation desired by stakeholders throughout the research process.

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