Hunters' preferences for engaging in control programs of introduced Eastern cottontails in Italy: a factorial survey approach.
In Europe, invasive alien mammals are often controlled by voluntary hunters. However, no research investigated if control operations could be entirely performed by volunteers, nor how to maximize their recruitment. By using the Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) in Central Italy as a case study, we carried out a factorial survey over a sample of hunters (n=134), exploring which attributes influenced their hypothetical participation to control programs for cottontails. Hunters were more willing to engage in control schemes if these included shooting sessions, not trapping. Moreover, they would have been more prone to control cottontails if they had received evidence of cottontail impacts over native wildlife or local crops. The geographical scale of the management plan and its goals and required efforts did not have any effect over the evaluation of management scenarios. As many European control schemes for invasive alien mammals are carried out in contexts where shooting is unfeasible, like urbanized neighborhoods, our findings show that agencies cannot entirely rely on volunteers and they should complement their limitations with full-time staff. Moreover, if wildlife agencies want to recruit volunteers, they should provide adequate information about the environmental and social impacts of invasive alien mammals.