Analysis of drivers of spring alligator hunting in Texas and policy implications
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Human-wildlife conflict, and more specifically human-carnivore conflict is a matter of particular salience among wildlife decision-makers. As conflict between large carnivores and humans increase with habitat destruction and urbanization, managers are faced with finding a balance between carnivore conservation and human appeasement. Large carnivore hunters are often the hardest group to bring on board new management decisions, as they have the most to lose. Understanding their views, hunting motivations, and acceptability of management actions can provide agencies and managers with the necessary tools to make wildlife policy changes a more seamless process. However, hunter acceptability is often overlooked in the decision-making process. To address this gap, we applied the principle-policy paradox (PPP) and potential for conflict index (PCI2) to a case study on American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) hunters in non-core counties in Texas. We surveyed 318 spring alligator hunters who had legally taken an alligator within the last five years and asked them to evaluate and indicate the level of acceptability of proposed management actions regarding the spring alligator hunting season. Results indicate that spring alligator hunters strongly oppose the removal of the spring hunting season and alternative management action show a lack of consensus among hunters. These results demonstrate that hunters exhibit a paradox between concern for alligator populations and sustainability, and policy acceptance to help achieve these conservation goals. Hunters obviously want healthy alligator populations so as to be able to continue hunting, but at the same time they may not be in favor of policies that curtail or limit hunting. We conclude that policy managers, specifically Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) should seize this opportunity to work with hunter cognitions of alligators to introduce a policy that has positive impacts on both alligators and future alligator hunters. Future research should further explore human, ecological, climatic, and urbanizing factors and their impact on alligator dynamics as human populations continue to increase in coastal areas inhabited by alligators. Since alligators are one of the few large carnivores that can thrive in a semi-urban and suburban landscape, contemporary management of alligators no longer fits the bill.