When Science-Based Management Isn’t

SCIENCE, Vol 343 21 March 2014

Kyle Artelle,  John Reynolds, Paul Paquet and Chris Darimont

IN DECEMBER 2013, The provincial government of British Columbia, Canada, approved the expansion of a controversial trophy hunt of at-risk grizzly bears. This decision raises doubts about the rigor of wildlife management and government policy in the region. Similar concerns have been raised in the United Kingdom (1) and the United States  (“Science behind plan to ease wolf protection is flawed, panel says.” V. Morell, News & Analysis, 14 February, p. 719).

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We recently found that between 2001 and 2011, in half of all hunted populations, human-caused death of grizzlies exceeded mortality rates deemed sustainable by government biologists. In addition, failure to properly account for uncertainty in estimates of population sizes, poaching rates, and population growth parameters meant that hunting targets might have been too high(2).

Surprisingly, despite the ensuing media attention, the government reopened hunting in previously overhunted populations, stating, “because we recognize inherent uncertainty in our population and harvest rate estimates, conservative mortality targets are used”(3).

Although the government’s justification borrowed our recent study’s language about uncertainty, their decision ran counter to its conclusions. Moreover, the government came under fire during debate in the provincial legislature (4,5)  for claiming in a press release that another recent study (6) confirmed management sustainability, when in fact the paper made no such claims.

Such outcomes reflect a wider problem that often arises when scientific evidence exposes flaws in preferred government policies. Governments can make “science-based” claims without being held to the same standard of transparency and scrutiny expected from scientific researchers. Similar shortcomings were recognized in the proposed delisting of gray wolves from the U.S. Endangered Species Act (Morell’s News & Analysis) and badger culling in Great Britain for disease control (1).

Given the substantial economic and ecological costs of management failure, it is alarming that purported scientifi c management often proceeds without the hallmarks of science—transparency, intelligibility, and rigorous evidence.

We propose that wildlife managers be held to the same level of scrutiny as research scientists through independent oversight similar to the peer-review process. This would incorporate science into management, ensure that the best available evidence is used in management decisions, and improve accountability to the public for whom wildlife are ostensibly managed.






1 Earth to Ocean Research Group (Biological Sciences), Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada.

2 Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sidney, BC V8L 1Y2, Canada.

3 Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, Canada.

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Dive into Tracking and learn more about our work safeguarding coastal carnivores in the Southern Great Bear Rainforest tenure. We are currently raising funds to stop commercial trophy hunting in more than a quarter of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Now is a good time to sign up and stay connected to our community of researchers and change-makers.