Decision Modeling and Analysis of Micro-Level Alligator Management: Application and Lessons Learned
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The need for legitimate management policies that promotes coexistence becomes critical as interactions between humans and carnivores intensify as a result of human encroachment depleting carnivore habitat and populations. Carnivores most intensely impact those living in their midst, demanding increased attention by local decision makers who are often best suited to catering to the needs of communities most affected, and yet are often overlooked in the decision-making process. Furthermore, the structure of decision-making for carnivore management at the local level is largely unexplored. The purposes of this study were to apply decision analysis to understand how carnivore management decisions are made at the local level, and develop lessons learned based on the results of this application. Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) was applied to a case study of American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) conservation in 10 coastal North Carolina counties to enhance the socio-political legitimacy of alligator management. Twenty-five local formal and informal decision makers who were or would be responsible for alligator management decisions as a part of their job were surveyed. Results indicate that decision makers placed nearly equal importance on wildlife- and human-specific factors when making alligator management decisions, and were most focused issues concerning public safety, alligator welfare, and public educational opportunities. Survey respondents also favored balanced and highly managed alternative management practices. Additionally, six lessons learned highlighted that investigating the structure of decision-making among local-level decision makers should enhance legitimacy of carnivore management via a concerted effort to include often-overlooked stakeholders’ perspectives on the gaps that threaten and trade-offs necessary to enhance the likelihood of humans willingly sharing space with alligators. At its core, this research addresses the potential of governing wildlife entities to develop large-scale governance processes and outcomes that increase the likelihood of coexistence between humans and crocodilian species in fast-growing coastal regions.