There’s no debate: Killing bears is immoral

B.C.’s policy frameworks fail to take ethical issues into consideration

By Chris Genovali, Special to the Victoria  Times Colonist,
January 21, 2010

A new decade has dawned and in a few months yet another year of grizzly bear hunting will commence in British Columbia.  The B.C. grizzly bear hunt has been a source of unrelenting controversy. Both sides are stuck in a continual expert-driven argument in which both camps claim science supports their positions.

It is time that the debate was conducted within the context of ethical considerations, as the present conflict will likely never transcend the deeply entrenched inflexible stances.

In his paper, Environmental Ethics and Trophy Hunting, Alastair Gunn states that “Nowhere in the [scientific] literature, so far as I am aware, is hunting for fun, for the enjoyment of killing, or for the acquisition of trophies defended.”

Many who are outspoken advocates of grizzly hunting do not recognize, or choose not to recognize, that it is a moral matter. They feign that hunting grizzlies is amoral when, in fact, it is not. They pretend the trivial value of hunting grizzlies somehow outweighs the much greater harm done to the bears.

In Ethics and the Environment, Dale Jamieson writes of the problematic nature of deciding to “choose amoralism and opt out of morality. The very ties that bind us to a society entangle us in a morality. Morality is ubiquitous; amoralists are rare.”

The compulsion to kill these intelligent, powerful and beautiful animals in order to “bag a trophy,” as opposed to simply observing and fully experiencing an encounter of two inextricably linked species, is something poll after poll has shown the average British Columbian cannot fathom.

Doug and Andrea Peacock address the human-bear connection in their book The Essential Grizzly:

“The concurrent colonization of North America by brown bears and humans is a remarkable story. Both men and grizzlies … lived together for thousands of years, and perhaps travelled the same route south to the continental United States. Genetic evidence indicates a single invasion for both grizzlies and humans….”

Grizzly bears are primarily shot and killed for gratuitous reasons. They are targeted by trophy hunters and guide outfitters for entertainment or for profit, with approval by government authorities who sanction this activity as a legitimate management tool.

Michael Nelson and Kelly Millenbah have stated in their recent paper The Ethics of Hunting that “To the degree the wildlife community begins to take philosophy and ethics more seriously, both as a realm of expertise that can be acquired and as a critical dimension of wildlife conservation, many elements of wildlife conservation and management would look different.”

Imagine a scenario in which wildlife managers and the politicians they must answer to were required to incorporate ethical considerations into the decision-making process for the grizzly hunt.

The debate would no longer be limited to metrics such as population estimates, kill quotas, harvestable surpluses and other strictly mechanistic arguments which lend themselves to endless stalemates.

According to Paul Paquet, a former member of the B.C. government’s grizzly bear scientific panel, the fact that we can hunt grizzly bears does not mean that we ought to hunt them.

Further, while science provides information, it does not give us permission to do things. In other words, the statistics that have been generated ostensibly to inform, but in actual practice to justify, the trophy hunting of grizzlies do not contain an intrinsic approval to do so.

Unfortunately, B.C. is saddled with a policy framework for wildlife conservation and management in which ethical considerations simply do not exist.

Large carnivores, in particular grizzly bears, pose a threat not so much to human “life and property,” rather to human self-conceptualization. They challenge our imagined “rightful place” in the world, primarily our hegemony over nature and its non-human inhabitants.

It is this mindset that blocks us from extending ethical considerations to grizzlies, for instance, both in the way we govern our society’s interactions with such animals and in how we wield power over bears given our technologically based supremacy (high-powered hunting rifles, jet boats, helicopters).

To evolve B.C.’s relationship with large carnivores, we could start by placing greater emphasis on examining the ethics and morality of the very concept of hunting for recreation and entertainment, as opposed to elevating trivial values like trophy hunting grizzlies above the welfare of the bears themselves.

Chris Genovali is the executive director of Raincoast Conservation.

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