Living with invasive plants in the Anthropocene

What does it mean to live with bioinvasions?  Low-wage labourers donning chemical suits and goggles to spray herbicides in tropical heat? Exurban homeowners cutting back an invasive vine near their back porch, but letting it run wild at the other side of the property? State environmental managers making difficult choices about what weeds to spend money on? In a recent collective paper inspired by the Wollongong Weeds Workshop (Head et al. 2015, see below), we seek to draw attention to the practical, lived side of managing weeds.

Poisoned Acacia nilotica in the Mitchell grasslands, northwest Queensland

Poisoned Acacia nilotica in the Mitchell grasslands, northwest Queensland

The paper is organised around five themes that arise from managers’ reflections on their work. It identifies tensions between the ideals arising out of invasion biology, resulting regulatory and policy frameworks, and practical on-the-ground experience.  The themes are:

  1. Invasive plant managers face several pragmatic trade-offs and often acknowledge the impossibility of the task.
  2. Invasive plant managers must reconcile diverse views, even within particular interest groups or social groups.
  3. Invasive plant managers must balance competing temporal scales: funding cycles, policy cycles, workplans, seasons, and seed bank longevity do not correspond.
  4. Invasive plant managers encounter tensions with policy: policies can be too restrictive, insensitive to context, contradictory from one sector to another, or subject to reversals.
  5. Invasive plant managers face critical and under-acknowledged labour challenges: health and safety risks of remote work with chemicals and sharp tools; short-term contractual labour needs; skill development; and lack of resources.

Better recognition of these contexts is necessary to promote more pragmatic future priority-setting. These kinds of tensions might receive less attention than headline “native vs. alien” debates, but are probably even more important in shaping actual practice on the ground, such as in the long-standing controversies over eucalypts in the San Francisco Bay Area (see e.g. the excellent Million Trees blog). As co-author Priya Rangan notes in her blog post on the topic, most people working for government agencies that are responsible for environmental and land management have don’t see plant invasions as simply a war to waged, but have instead “developed adaptive strategies that establish boundaries of cohabitation between these weedy plants and their human counterparts.”

Article citation:  Head, L, BMH Larson, RJ Hobbs, J Atchison, N Gill, CA Kull & H Rangan (2015) Living with invasive plants in the Anthropocene: the importance of understanding practice and experience. Conservation and Society 13 (3):311-318.  DOI:  10.4103/0972-4923.170411 (link)(pdf)

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