B.C.’s approach to wildlife management needs major ethical reform

To reform management so that science can honestly and credibly support policy decisions will require incorporating key hallmarks of science. Although there are clearly ethical considerations in any decisions about the environment, wildlife management is one of the few fields for which ethics remain notably absent.

A bighorn sheep close up on face and eye.

Bighorn sheep. Photo by Kyle Artelle

British Columbia has begun an ambitious effort to review the province’s approach to managing wildlife, with $14 million committed so far. The Province’s interest in reform is encouraging. As explained in a letter we recently published in the journal Science, this endeavour and its justification are laudable, and if done properly have the potential for making BC a continental leader in wildlife management. Whether this happens, however, will depend largely on whether the reform embraces principles of science honestly and openly, while involving the varied interests of all citizens, rather than only consumptive users (hunters and trappers).

British Columbia is blessed with a remarkable diversity of wildlife. Many of the 3,800 known plant and animal species in BC live only here. BC is also critical for winged migrations that extend over thousands of kilometres. Unlike most places in North America, BC has additionally retained all of the large land animals that were present at the time of European colonization, including grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and cougars, making it among the last havens for the large animals left on the continent.

However, many might be surprised to learn that instead of the management of this wildlife being primarily focused on conservation of species and the ecosystems on which they depend, in BC, as across much of North America, the focus is typically on the management of wildlife to allow for sustained exploitation by hunters and trappers.

The scale of wildlife exploitation can be difficult to comprehend.  Tweet This!

This consumptive focus can overshadow broader concerns about wildlife, including ethical considerations. Although there are clearly ethical considerations in any decisions about the environment, wildlife management is one of the few fields for which ethics remain notably absent. This stands in contrast with other areas of public policy, such as criminal justice and health care, where the recognition of ethics is foundational. Such consideration has led to better outcomes, such as improved wellbeing of those affected by policy decisions.

The scale of wildlife exploitation can be difficult to comprehend. Although hunting and trapping might evoke visions of traditional, low-scale, and low-impact endeavours, both undertakings currently comprise an enormous extractive activity: for many wildlife species, humans kill more adults than all other predators combined.

To reform management so that science can honestly and credibly support policy decisions will require incorporating key hallmarks of science.  Tweet This!

Given this reality, one might hope that wildlife management would have considerable oversight and rigour to protect against potential negative impacts on wildlife populations. And wildlife managers across North America usually do claim a scientific foundation for their activities. However, recent research in the journal Science Advances found that key hallmarks of science are often missing in management of species across NA. For example, of the 667 management systems that study examined, only 26% had measurable objectives, only 11% explained how hunting quotas or limits were set, and only 9 percent were subject to external review.

To reform management so that science can honestly and credibly support policy decisions will require incorporating key hallmarks of science: 1) Clear objectives are needed for the public to understand what government wildlife managers are trying to achieve. These objectives need to be clear enough to allow assessment of whether they have been met, and their ethical basis needs to be clearly described; 2) Strong evidence is needed to ensure that well-informed decisions are made. In cases with weak evidence, strong caution is warranted; 3) Full transparency to the public is required in how wildlife is managed, including how the funding the public provides for management is used, and; 4) External scrutiny, whereby independent bodies (that is, individuals who are neither part of government, appointed by government, nor too closely affiliated to be unbiased) scrutinize the approach used by government, to ensure approaches used are credible.

The BC government recently made the courageous decision to end the province’s ethically questionable, controversial and scientifically suspect grizzly bear trophy hunt, a decision that government leaders acknowledged was partly in response to changing societal values about wildlife management. These included considerations of cultural and other non-lethal values and activities, such as wildlife viewing. The current review of provincial wildlife management provides a tremendous opportunity to further demonstrate leadership for the province and the continent, by addressing the critical need for broader wildlife policy reform that is informed by science and reflective of societal attitudes and desires, including ethical concerns in wildlife management.


Drs. Kyle Artelle, Paul Paquet, Faisal Moola and Chris Darimont are scientists at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Chris Genovali is Raincoast’s executive director. Kyle Artelle, Paul Paquet, and Chris Darimont are also at the University of Victoria, and Faisal Moola is also at the University of Guelph

A version of this article was first published on August 24, 2018 in the Globe and Mail.

 

Applied Ecology: Hallmarks of science missing from North American wildlife management

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