Goats, people and rangelands: Analysis of the rangeland goat industry as a complex social ecological system




El Hassan, Marwan

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Goats were introduced to Australia in the late eighteenth century. They are now a permanent feature of the Australian rangelands. A population of 4-6 million highly adapted wild goats currently shares much of Australia's semi-arid zone with domestic livestock and native herbivores. Goats have always been controversial in Australia, and there are two competing paradigms around them: pest or resource. Goats can contribute significantly to damaging grazing pressure, alongside domestic, other feral and native herbivores. Simultaneously, Australia leads the world in goat meat exports, with an industry that relies on harvesting wild goats for 95 per cent of the supply. My research investigates how the rangeland goat industry, as a complex and highly adaptive social ecological system, behaves and how to sustainably manage it. I use a combination of literature review, document analysis and interviews with a range of stakeholders involved the industry. I describe and assess the system drawing on the cultural adaptation template (CAT) framework from human ecology integrated with principles from resilience thinking. I focus on the western rangelands of New South Wales, where most of the goat population and many key stakeholders in the system are. However, to study the inter-scale interactions, I also interviewed Boer goat breeders, farmland producers, export processors, local saleyards and abattoirs, and state and commonwealth government participants. Following the methodology of the CAT, I describe the following main 'states' of the system: the dominant paradigms, ecosystems, human wellbeing, and institutions. To 'assess' the system, I use three integrated tools from both frameworks. First, I develop a scenario matrix that discusses four possible paradigm-driven scenarios of institutional approaches to goat management. The second assessment tool is the Goldilocks principle, an extension of the Ehrlich-Holdren relation that describes the thresholds, boundaries and safe operating space of a system in relation to the impact of a community or species on the environment and the balance between socio-economic and environmental wellbeing. However, I argue that this model should be taken in the context of the very dynamic nature of the event-driven socio-ecological rangeland system. To complete the picture, I analyse inter-scale dynamics and how this affects the behaviour of the focal system. Based on these analyses, I argue the need for a 'paradigm shift' towards collaborative management of rangeland goats for the mutual benefit of conservation and pastoral industries. Under this new paradigm, goat harvesting becomes the tool of choice for management, rather than a purely financially driven activity. This paradigm is the fourth and desirable scenario in my matrix. As a result of this study, I provide the tools for stakeholders in goat management to come together and 'act' on the system, through clear feedback-guided analysis and models. These models constitute a transdisciplinary shared language for all stakeholders towards the mutual goal of sustainable goat management. Thus, this project is a first step towards achieving this desirable goal.






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