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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:
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
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.