Not seeing is not believing: volunteer beliefs about Burmese pythons in Florida and implications for public participation in invasive species removal.
Public engagement is important to invasive species management, and recreational harvest programs are one way agencies seek to involve the public and raise awareness. We surveyed participants (n=660) and non-participants (n=77) in the 2013 Python ChallengeTM to understand whether this event achieved its primary goal of raising awareness of the ecological impact of Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) in south Florida. Respondents indicated a high level of 'concern' about the seriousness of the python problem and the need for management actions. Concern was affected positively by environmental motivations, experience of seeing pythons in the wild, older age, and female sex, but negatively by level of Python Challenge involvement. Results suggest that 'proximate' experience of not seeing a python may reduce concern, whereas 'ongoing' experience may temper concern without diminishing involvement. This research highlights the role of experience in shaping beliefs and advises diligence in public participation programs.