Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of invasive alien plant control: A case study from South Africa
van Wilgen, B.W.
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Conservation projects spend billions of dollars clearing invasive alien plants, yet few studies have measured the cost-effectiveness of doing this, especially over larger spatial and temporal scales, relevant to operational contexts. We evaluated the cost-effectiveness of South Africa’s national invasive alien plant control programme, Working for Water, in reducing invasive alien plant cover in the Krom and Kouga river catchments over 7 years. We assessed change in invasive alien plant cover by comparing post-treatment cover with the first recorded pre-treatment cover across all 740 of the two project’s treatment sites (ranging from 0.03 to 227.6 ha in size). We also used regression analysis to estimate the effect of predictor variables on the cost-effectiveness of invasive alien plant clearing. We found – by dividing the total costs by the change in invasive alien plant cover – that it cost 2.4 times more (1.5 times for the Krom, and 8.6 times for the Kouga project) to clear invaded land than the highest equivalent estimate made elsewhere. At current rates of clearing, it would take 54 and 695 years to clear the catchments, in the Krom and Kouga, respectively, assuming no further spread. If spread is considered, current control efforts are inadequate, and invasions are likely to continue to spread in the catchments. Pre-treatment invasive alien plant cover and treatment costs per hectare had the greatest positive and negative influence, respectively on cost-effectiveness. Our assessment suggests that invasive alien plant control projects urgently need to monitor their cost-effectiveness so that management practices can be adapted to use scarce conservation funds more effectively.