Activity: Decision Making and Issue Analysis

(Refer to "Basin Map with Vegetation/Habitats" in Appendix)

Management and Regulation...

Once exotic plants or animals have escaped om captivity and become established in the wild, we as citizens are faced with many possible courses of action. If our response is prompt, we can often minimize the dire consequences to our precious ecosystems.

On the other hand, if we are not paying attention to the wetlands surrounding Lake Pontchartrain, dramatic situations can suddenly loom into our everyday lives. A perfect example of the latter situation is the current nutria problem in Jefferson Parish where nutria are eating the vegetation along the drainage canals and tunneling under roads causing erosion.

  • Students can assume the roles of the various agencies involved in the decision-making process regarding threats to the ecosystem, proposing and defending their viewpoints.

  • Viewpoints should be well-grounded in scientific fact and well-researched.

  • Reaching agreements about complex social issues often requires a high degree of diplomacy and considerable amounts of compromise between concerned parties.

The educator reads the following excerpt from a Times Picayune article dated January 21, 1994 (Section A, p.1, column 3) regarding the nutria problem in Jefferson Parish:

They've already been blamed for eating state wetlands and sending the ecosystem into peril. Now, the rapidly reproducing nutria are taking the rap for wrecking Jefferson Parish drainage and roadway systems.

Parish officials said the open drainage canals that crisscross Jefferson have become havens for the semi-aquatic rodents. Thousands of nutria are digging into the canal banks, undermining nearby roadways and collapsing drainage pipes that feed canals...

The nutria have dug holes into canal banks along Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Vintage Drive and West Esplanade Avenue in Metairie and into the banks of several canals on the West Bank. Officials said the nutria tunnels, some of which are 10 to 12 feet deep, have destabilized the banks and cracked drainage pipes that run through the banks. The burrows also have caused cracks in sections of West Esplanade and other roads near canals.

Parish Public works Director B.K. Sneed said the parish is trying to put a price on the damage caused by the nutria."We're going to different parish departments to try to quantify the problem because it affects not only drainage, but roads," Sneed said. "It's a big problem...."

The educator and students review the following model of a typical decision-making process:
Scenario/Issue Analysis
Situation Nutria have moved into suburban Jefferson Parish from the surrounding wetlands where they "belong".
Problem Nutria burrows are undermining the roadway
foundations and causing extensive and expensive mage to public property.
Values Conflict The nutria must be removed but animal-rights activists are outraged that the nutria will be killed and insist upon further studies to determine the most humane methods of eradication.
Possible Solutions

  1. Continue to fund studies until the problem goes away.

  2. Trap nutria and release them in other areas.

  3. Eat the nutria, using creative recipes.

  4. Let the Jefferson parish deputies use the nutria for sharp-shooting practice.

  5. Feed the nutria poisoned sweet potatoes in the hope that this will limit population size.

  6. Other

Chosen representatives make decisions using citizens' input.

Thus, values are applied.

In each of the following exercises the educator reads an excerpt from a newspaper article to the students. Then the educator guides the students throught the decision-making process, allowing them to (a) brainstorm and research solutions, and (b) make decisions.

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