Do people care about pine invasions? Visitor perceptions and willingness to pay for pine control in a protected area.
Tree invasions are increasing globally, causing major problems for biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. In South America, conifer invasions occur across many ecosystems and while numerous studies address the ecological consequences of these invasions, little is known about social perceptions and people's attitudes toward their control. The social perceptions on the effect of invasive conifers can include recreational, cultural and conservation dimensions. This study, conducted in the Malalcahuello National Reserve, aims to assess visitor's perception about invasive pines (Pinus spp.) and their effects on the endangered Araucaria araucana forests and determine their willingness to pay for pine control. We used a questionnaire to survey visitors to the reserve in both winter and summer (n=138 for each season). When confronted with six images of araucaria and pine forests with and without snow, visitors consistently preferred landscapes without pines and disliked those completely dominated by pines the most. Almost half, 46.5%, of the visitors expressed their willingness to pay (WTP) for pine control and after given a brief explanation about pine impacts, this number rose to 79%. Visitors who said they were unwilling to pay argue ethical, aesthetic and pragmatic considerations relating closely to a number of social value systems and beliefs. Our study shows that there is a high variation in how people assess the threat of invasive pine species in natural areas, but education even in a very brief format can help to increase awareness of the problem and build social and financial support for its control.