Feral animals are pests in large parts of rural Australia. The list of culprits is long with foxes, cats, feral dogs, goats, rabbits, pigs, deer, and camels all causing problems for farmers and conservationists alike. In production terms the cost is estimated at billions of dollars a year.
Not surprisingly there are pest control programs all over the country with poison baits, mustering, hunting, trapping and a host of other control tactics in place.
In 2005 some scientists became curious to see if any of these control programs actually made a difference.
They interviewed as many of the pest control organisers as they could in all the states and territories for control programs that had a conservation focus. They established that the majority of over a thousand programs they identified, 68% in fact, had no form of monitoring in place at all. The pest control teams did not know how many pests they had removed or what had happened to the species or habitats the pests were affecting.
In short they were operating blind.
Now a pilot in Papua New Guinea on a stormy afternoon, if he had any sense, wouldn’t take off. Flying blind is dangerous.
Except that the only immediate danger in pest control is to the pests. The operators simply get on with control. Indeed the researchers found that there was some monitoring of person days spent tracking, numbers of baits released, and helicopter logbooks full of hours mustering sufficient to show that the job was being done — but nothing on the outcome.
After habitat loss, pests and weeds are the next most significant threat to biodiversity in Australia. In many places they are the main cause of biodiversity loss and attempts at control make sense.
What is crazy is to have no idea if control measures have made a difference. We have no idea if they are worth all the effort.
Perhaps it is that distinctly human trait where being seen to do the right thing is just as important as doing it.
Sounds crazy to me.
Google Scholar can link you to the original research
Reddiex B, et al (2006) Control of pest mammals for biodiversity protection in Australia. I. Patterns of control and monitoring. Wildlife Research 33, 691–709
Reddiex B. & Forsyth D.M. (2006) Control of pest mammals for biodiversity protection in Australia. II. Reliability of knowledge Wildlife Research 33, 711–717