Define your wild dog problem and assess impacts

This first step is the most important as this is when all stakeholders  work together to define the nature and extent of the problem.  Setting agreed objectives later on will be more difficult if the  problem is not clearly defined.

In this step, stakeholders need to identify what the problem is,  where it occurs, what the causes are, their source, who has the  problem, when it occurs and how critical it is. This step defines the  problem from different perspectives to help the various stakeholders set agreed objectives and develop a workable  management plan. It also helps the various stakeholders understand  the problems from other participants’ perspectives.

Drawing information on maps and writing down the answers to all  the questions in the working plan ensures that all stakeholders are  familiar with agreed actions.

Defining the problem is the most important step in developing a working plan

What is the problem?

Wild dog problems may be economic, environmental or social, and  might occur now or in the future. Stakeholders need to decide  whether they are reacting to an ongoing problem, proactively trying  to prevent a problem from occurring, or both.

For example, for managers of livestock or threatened species, the  key problem might be one of predation. Perhaps livestock or native  animals are being attacked right now? Alternatively, there might not  be a problem now, but there may be concern one will occur in the  future.

Alternatively, if someone is interested in conserving pure dingoes and preventing hybridisation with free-roaming domestic dogs, their problem might be keeping the two groups separated and/or finding  and removing hybrid animals already in their management area. In  such cases, the associated problems could include identifying the  pure animals, or even first identifying what the target of  conservation is — is it some genetic trait, a particular appearance or  a role in the environment?

What are the impacts?
Most stakeholders don’t have a problem with wild dogs per se, but  rather with what wild dogs do, or might do. The best way to tease out the real problems is to list the impacts that wild dogs have on  various stakeholders — what do wild dogs do that is of concern or benefit?

It is useful to discuss whether good and bad impacts occur  together or separately, and the relative size of the impacts. For example, livestock predation might be bad, but stakeholders might also  believe that a positive impact for them is a reduction in kangaroo  numbers. It is necessary to consider which impact is of greater importance.

Where are the problems?
Identifying where current problems are can sometimes be relatively  easy compared to predicting where future problems will occur. Key  questions include:

  • Are the problems occurring only in one type of land system (eg  open grazing land), or across different land systems (eg open land  and thick bushland)?
  • Is the problem unique to a specific place or situation, or is it widespread and common?
  • Consider the history of the issue within, and surrounding, the management area. Are there isolated hotspots, or particular conditions associated with when the problem occurs?
  • Matching the impacts with the appropriate scale is important. On  what scale is management proposed, and necessary — on a single  farm or in one valley, across a group of similar properties, or over  a broad mix of land types and land uses?

What is the source of the problem?
Once stakeholders have identified where problems are occurring,  it’s worth asking what the source of the problems are. This helps to  identify where management actions should occur and how they will  need to be implemented. Keeping in mind that ‘all lands used by wild  dogs are part of the problem’ can help prevent this from becoming a
finger-pointing exercise.

In some cases, impacts might be felt in one place but the source of  the problem is somewhere else. For example, the loss of pure  dingoes might be felt in a national park, but the source could be from towns; that is, when people bring pet dogs into a national park.

It is important to be careful not to presume that wild dog problems  come from ‘somewhere else’. Although wild dogs are capable of  travelling long distances, they are equally capable of avoiding detection, even in places where there is lots of human activity.

It can be easy to look to other stakeholders’ land as the source of problems, but each stakeholder must remember that if dogs use  their place, they too are part of the problem, and must act to be part  of the solution.

Who has the problem?
List all affected stakeholders. Include those stakeholders who have  the problem and those who may be a source of the problem. Include  those parties who are involved in some other way, such as those  agencies with responsibilities to participate in wild dog  management.

Record names and contact details, including the names of  organisations, phone numbers and email addresses. Be careful not  to disclose these to others without the permission of the stakeholders themselves.

When does the problem occur?
Although there can be regular patterns to some wild dog problems,  this might not always be the case. Keeping records of when  problems occur (monitoring) will help to better define the problem. At this stage, stakeholders should identify what they know about  the frequency and severity of impacts, such as whether they are  constant and minor, or uncommon but severe, and so on. It is also  useful to note whether or not particular impacts can be predicted,  and with what degree of certainty.

How critical is the problem?
This section helps to put the wild dog related problems into  perspective.  Each stakeholder should consider how severe the  problems are, both for them and for others. Is each impact something that any stakeholder can be reasonably expected to  tolerate? If not, what extent of change or intervention is needed to  reduce negative impacts to an acceptable level?

Answering these questions will help stakeholders prioritise both  impacts and their responses.

When the problem is severe and is happening now, collective action  might be needed immediately. Alternatively, you might only need to  monitor the situation until the problem exceeds an agreed  threshold, before management actions are initiated.

What are the constraints?
There are often constraints that prevent effective management and that maintain problems, such as legal considerations or access  restrictions to certain areas. These need to be identified before  appropriate management objectives can be set.

Are the most appropriate management techniques accessible? Do  all stakeholders have the necessary skills, experience or  qualifications? Are there relevant legal, environmental or physical  barriers? Are there sufficient financial resources to achieve the agreed objectives? At this point, it is also important to identify any  social constraints to the problem, such as the attitudes of particular people or key groups. Ensuring that all stakeholders’ opinions are  respected, recorded and included in decision making is vital as planning continues.