Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are a serious problem with adverse ecological, economic,
and social impacts. These wide-ranging impacts mean similarly wide ranges of affected
and interested parties (stakeholders) and of knowledge and data types being involved in
AIS decisions. Decision support tools (DST) can be powerfully effective methods for
helping to simplify complex decisions, incorporating different types of knowledge, and
assisting in clear communication between involved parties. Developing a useful DST,
however, requires understanding the needs, priorities, and concerns of broader
stakeholders as well as the managers responsible for making the decisions. It also
requires understanding the legal and policy context for these decisions. This dissertation
reports the results of research conducted to understand stakeholders’ attitudes and
concerns about genetic biocontrol (a new AIS control technology currently under
development), understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current decision-making
process used by AIS managers, and examine the effectiveness of the National Invasive
Species Act, the key piece of federal AIS legislation regarding management of AIS.
Together, these results form building blocks for developing a DST for improved
management of AIS.
Information on stakeholder perspectives on development of new AIS control
technologies, involving genetic manipulations, was gathered in a series of focus groups in
the United States Great Lakes and Lake Champlain regions. Stakeholders were
enthusiastic about the potential inherent in these new technologies but remained deeply
concerned about potential unintended consequences. Key concerns related to ecological
impacts, the cost of development, and the possibility that this research will detract from
other, ongoing control work. Stakeholders also had a number of recommendations for
development of these new technologies that have implications for broader AIS
management. These recommendations included engaging stakeholders throughout the development process, employing clear go/no-go reasoning, and using a transparent
A series of interviews with natural resource managers was undertaken to improve
understanding of the current decision-making environment and identify its strengths and
weakness. These interviews illuminated the priorities and concerns underlying managers’
decision-making processes, their perceptions of existing strengths and weaknesses of
these processes, and the issues that a decision support tool could help them to better
address. In their work, managers must balance a wide range of priorities competing with
one another for limited resources (e.g., prevention and containment efforts, research into
new control tools, control and eradication efforts). The existing decision-making
environment succeeds at facilitating coordination between agencies and communication
with the broader public. This process, however, currently lacks several principles of
robust decision-making including sufficient scientific basis, structure, documentation,
and an adaptive element. The results indicate that AIS decisions could be strengthened by
explicitly incorporating these principles into the decision-making process and that use of
a decision support tool would be an effective way of carrying out such incorporation.
Finally, I analyzed the National Invasive Species Act, arguably the most important
federal policy dealing with AIS, using peer-reviewed and grey literature, as well as
natural resource manager interviews to assess whether or not the Act had met its stated
goals. The results indicate the Act has had limited success in achieving its objectives,
especially in preventing introductions of new invasive species and limiting the spread of
invasive species already present, but has been effective in organizing national and
regional coordination via the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and its regional panels. Results suggest that reauthorizations of the Act should grant additional authority
to regulate introductions via pathways other than ballast water to a federal agency and
that the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force should be granted additional authority and
resources to allow it to further increase regional coordination of control and containment efforts. Together, these results allowed me to design a blueprint for a DST responsive to the
needs of stakeholders, managers, and federal level policy. I developed a simplified
sample of the DST to illustrate how it combines spatial data with manager experience and
stakeholder priorities to determine key areas for management actions (i.e. monitoring,
quarantines, and control efforts).
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. March 2013. Major: Conservation biology. Advisor: Dr. Anne R. Kapuscinski. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 150 pages, appendices A-J.
Sharpe, Leah M..
Developing a decision support tool for improved aquatic invasive species management.
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