Prioritising targets for biological control of weeds - a decision support tool for policy makers

Ecosystems Sustainability Australia
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Establishing effective biological control agents in Australia is costly in both resources and time, yet it is often a valuable component of weed control. It has been estimated that biological control of weeds in Australia has provided around $10 billion worth of agricultural protection over the past century. To date significant investment has been made in the selection process of biocontrol agents and the identification of priority weeds for biocontrol. However there is no nationally agreed system that facilitates prioritisation of weed targets for biological control. The Department of Agriculture commissioned ABARES to develop:

• a framework that outlines the overall process of prioritising targets for biological control and

• a decision support tool that enables policy makers to determine whether biological control is a suitable option for the proposed target species.

A recent work related to the selection and prioritisation of weeds for biological control targets was published by Paynter et al 2009 (hereafter 'Paynter'). Paynter was used as a basis for discussion about how to assist policy makers in assessing whether biocontrol is an appropriate option for weed control.

The proposal for a decision support tool for policy makers was discussed at a workshop fully recognising that such a system would need to have a science basis that is both transparent and repeatable to be rigorous. The participants were experts in biocontrol or other weed science, state representatives and other relevant stakeholders. The proposal was outlined in a background/discussion paper and provided to participants prior to the workshop. The purpose of the paper was to provide participants with relevant background information and a proposed approach for a decision support tool for policy makers to be debated and progressed at the workshop.

Aim of the workshop and background/discussion paper

The workshop was held in Canberra on 4 April 2013. The objectives of the workshop were to:

• discuss whether the approach based on Paynter is suitable as a decision support tool at the policy level to prioritise targets for biological control

• reach a consensus amongst workshop participants on key principles that need to be considered in the prioritisation process of biological control targets

Suggestions made at the workshop are addressed in this report. Many of the concerns raised at the workshop corresponded with the common 'core' issues recorded in Paynter. These include concerns about lack of data, the tendency of the framework to overlook weeds outside the Weeds of National Significance, concerns that weightings are arbitrary, and a need for the framework to be able to anticipate emergent weeds and potential future problems. Here, those issues that are relevant to policy have been considered with the acknowledgement that remaining 'core' issues need to be addressed elsewhere.

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