Last week, AUSCCER hosted a workshop for academics and practitioners on this theme at the Novotel Wollongong. We assembled about thirty people connected with our own (Lesley Head, Jenny Atchison and Nick Gill) projects, and with projects where we knew there were partnerships between social scientists and invasive plant managers. The group encompassed a variety of disciplinary traditions (ecology, geography, history, anthropology) and working contexts (State and Local government, NGOs, Aboriginal Land Councils, Universities). They came from all over Australia.
We asked, in an age of social and ecological change, how do we live with weeds? What does this entail ecologically and socially? What are the everyday experiences of managing weeds? How might we reconcile management practice and our lived experience with an ecological vision and policy framework that some places be free from weeds?
Our first keynote speaker Prof Richard Hobbs (University of Western Australia) built on his work on novel ecosystems to help us think further about the ‘new normal’. He asked whether acknowledging the extent of present and projected change sends us down a ‘slippery slope’ where there are no longer any environmental rules and anything goes? His answer was a resounding ‘no’; it is possible to find a middle ground where effective ways forward are possible. But this requires more pragmatic acceptance of what is actually happening, more systematic discussions of desired futures, and attention to the principle of ‘first, do no harm’.
Second keynote speaker Assoc Prof Brendon Larson (University of Waterloo, Canada) took this discussion further to ask whether living with invasive species is ‘just giving in’? Using his juggling skills to illustrate metaphors of stability, uncertainty and change, Brendan also argued that we need to learn to live in and with novel socio-ecological systems. And we will need new metaphors to help us do this.
The rest of the first day was spent listening to diverse presentations and diverse voices. It is impossible to summarise them fully, but recurring themes included the following.
– The practical experience of many people who live with and manage weeds is already in the new normal (in contrast to those sections of conservation biology that contest novel ecosystems).
– These experiences vary in space, time, scale and context and are worth documenting.
– Documenting lived practice can potentially helps us to be more systematic in our pragmatism and make more effective use of scarce resources.
– The reason to do so is a future that is very uncertain and over which we may have influence but not control.
Each of the participants is being invited to contribute their reflections in the comments section of this blog. We will then collate responses into an AUSCCER working paper to provide a record of the workshop and some of the interactions that took place. (Thanks to Catherine Phillips for this suggestion, which is a simplified version of methods used by Ian Cook et al.)
We acknowledge workshop funding from the Australian Research Council under Lesley Head’s Laureate Fellowship (FL0992397).