Posing problems in the Park

Parks’ officers and NERP researchers develop a decision framework for assessing different management options concerning efforts to conserve an endangered lizard on Christmas Island.

Parks’ officers and NERP researchers develop a decision framework for assessing different management options concerning efforts to conserve an endangered lizard on Christmas Island.

Supercolonies of yellow crazy ants are threatening the forest ecosystems on Christmas Island. Can we predict where supercolonies are likely to form? Will these predictions lead to better targeted control effort?

The noxious bitou bush has invaded coastal ecosystems in Booderee National Park in Jervis Bay, NSW, and park managers are pouring significant resources into removing it. Does the pay-off from control justify this hefty allocation of resources or are we better off investing elsewhere?

The endangered white-throated wren in Kakadu National Park is believed to be sensitive to different forms of fire management. Can adaptive management provide rangers the information they need to discern the merit of alternative burning regimes?

These aren’t hypothetical case studies dreamt up by researchers to test different modelling approaches; they are real life challenges currently being faced by the staff of Parks Australia. Maybe NERP’s decision science can lend a hand.

In May of 2012, a group of NERP researchers met with representatives from Parks Australia at the University of Melbourne to share views, insights and research on monitoring, modelling and environmental decision making in general. The meeting was ‘brokered’ by NERP ED’s Knowledge Broker, Terry Walshe, and the leader of Parks Australia’s Biodiversity Science Team, Judy West.

Managers outlined a variety of current and emerging challenges they’re dealing with, including the ant/bitou/wren dilemmas outlined above, while researchers discussed the pros and cons of different approaches to making sound environmental decisions.

“The value of such meetings goes beyond the issues that confront us today,” says Terry Walshe. “There is enormous enthusiasm for collaborative work and I’m confident the body of research developed by NERP over recent years will provide accessible and durable solutions to the specific problems posed. But the real value of the workshop was the relationships between researchers and end-users that emerged. These links hold the promise of creative, well constructed solutions to the challenges that lie ahead.

“Parks Australia is dealing with a daunting set of challenges and new (often unforseen) problems are arising all the time. The opportunity for applied research that makes a difference is abundantly evident.

“In a sense, Judy and I have contrived a flirtation between researchers seeking on-ground relevance and managers seeking clarity in decision-making. The hope is that the flirtation translates to a relationship of substance.*”

[*Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Decision Point #61 in mid 2012. We’re happy to report that things have moved on considerably since then – in very positive ways with several ongoing and productive relationships.]

Terry Walshe (standing) encourage those gathered at the Parks’ workshop to consider their discussions (fruitful though they were) as but the first step in an ongoing relationship.

Terry Walshe (standing) encourage those gathered at the Parks’ workshop to consider their discussions (fruitful though they were) as but the first step in an ongoing relationship.

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