Behind The Glass Hunting with Chris Darimont and Chris Pryn

Although their strongly held values conflict on some issues, Darimont and Pryn choose to focus on the common ground they share.

Chris Darimont spoke with hunter and podcaster Chris Pryn to discuss their shared interests in hunting and habitat protection, and also to figure out where they disagree. It’s a remarkable interview, in part, because both Darimont and Pryn work so hard to have a respectful conversation despite their differences. 

They discuss at length Darimont and colleague’s’ paper, “Large carnivore hunting and the social license to hunt,” in which the researchers use a modified social license to hunt model, based on Social License to Operate frameworks from mining and forestry, that treats hunters as operators instead of stakeholders.

Their conversation is wide ranging, provocative, sometimes tense, and always respectful and a pleasure to listen to. Pryn even admits having a change of heart after reading the paper by Darimont and team.

On this episode of Behind the Glass Hunting, Chris chats with Chris Darimont of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Chris is a Professor at the University of Victoria, a long time science director for Raincoast Conservation Foundation and also, like many of us, an adult onset hunter.

Behind The Glass Hunting

Transcript of interview

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Pryn:  Hi everyone, welcome back to the podcast. Today’s episode is with Chris Darimont from Vancouver Island. He’s a researcher. And he’s done lot of his work with Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Hunters in BC will be familiar with both of those names. If you’re not, I suggest you go and do some research. This podcast is definitely not what people think it is. This is not an all-out debate. This is not an argument. There’s not anything confrontational.

Instead, we both tried to focus on the things that we did agree on, and there’s obvious disagreements in a lot of stuff in here. But we chose not to focus on that. And we tried to focus on things we could agree on. I am sure it’s going to ruffle some feathers. I’m not too worried about it. Chris Darimont, welcome to the podcast. 

Darimont: How are you? I’m well, thanks Chris. Thanks for having me.

Pryn: My pleasure. If people aren’t familiar with who you are, do you want to give your, give a quick introduction? 

Darimont: Sure. Yeah. I’m a professor here at the university of Victoria in the Department of Geography. Generally I study wildlife systems. We study fishes too, and that often that leads us to studying from various perspectives, harvesting systems from ecological perspectives and evolutionary perspectives. And to the point today, probably social perspectives on harvesting systems. Often we work with Indigenous peoples and governments, more so than governments of the Crown. I also direct science in a volunteer capacity for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. And I’m also a Hunter – kind of a late onset hunter.

I think I got my license in 2001 or two around then, and I’m out every year. I’m a deer Hunter mostly. But I’m a food hunter. I always have been, always will be. So that’s me in a nutshell.

Pryn: I am also a late in life hunter and I spoke about this on another podcast., 

Darimont: I didn’t have the privilege of, of hunting with my dad.I grew up fishing with my old man in Active Pass for salmon. And as you probably know, there’s hardly any runs that pass through Active Pass anymore. Those experiences hunting and fishing with elders are  really formative for people and values are gelling as a young person get reinforced hanging out with your elders. But it’s a different scenario altogether when you learn, say, as an adult with established values and then you bring those values into a new experience like hunting.

So that’s why I think maybe where we’re seeing a really strong interest in the hunt to eat ethic of late onset hunters. And, and that’s probably why I am the way I am and have the relationship I do with hunting.

Pryn: So most hunters that have got their nose to the grindstone, probably heard you introduce yourself as a Raincoast Director of Science. There’s a bunch of hunters who think Raincoast and hunters aren’t friends. Right. So that’s an interesting dynamic for you. Because you’re a Hunter, right. Can you speak to that at all? 

Darimont: We hear that a lot at Raincoast that we are somehow anti-hunting, which really doesn’t align with who we are or the evidence. Yes, without question, we have consistently been outspoken against the trophy hunting of large carnivores. But nowhere could I find, or remember in 20 years of being with Raincoast have we expressed any anti-hunting sentiment in the press, online, or in any of our writing. However, we’re a convenient punching bag, or boogie man.

When people are frustrated, they’re looking for something bad to say about a person or group. And this is, you know, part and parcel with being in a realm like this. Where there’s conflict you’re gonna take one on the chin now and then. And if people dug around a little more they would find out about the broader portfolio of what Raincoast does. We’re not at all anti-hunter. Actually, most of us fish. We have never advocated against hunting for food, nor will we ever. Our broad portfolio of work mostly has to do with safeguarding habitat. 

Pryn: Honestly, I hadn’t had an opportunity to, and I laugh about this now, but I hadn’t had an opportunity to read your recent paper. Okay. Yeah. I hadn’t had an opportunity to take in anything, but I was hit square in the face. So then I got an opportunity to research even more. Yeah. I think that the essay was good. I’ve rather enjoyed the essay. Thank you. I didn’t like the tone, and I don’t like that ethical hunters suffer because of unethical hunters.

Darimont: It sucks. Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned that because that’s one big take home that we agree on, even though, you know, I’ll duke it out with the Wildlife Federation and others.

Like, we both agree that most hunters aren’t interested in hunting cats or killing just for trophy. Most are interested in filling their freezer and being with their friends and their family. So that’s a starting point that we both wholly embrace and that’s what the data support too.

Darimont: Trophy hunting is loaded and controversial and perhaps compellingly hunters believe it’s being weaponized, you know, as a pejorative, as a criticism to hunters that do these sort of things.

Pryn: In the paper you mentioned elk and sheep and I read that and I did not feel threatened by that. I did not feel threatened by that, but people just saw though, I think people saw those two words and we saw red. 

Darimont: Right. Of course. And I, and I understand why they do, they think, okay. You know, first these bear huggers took away the grizzly bears and next are coming for my elk because they’re labeling both as trophy and that’s an understandable concern. If you stop there and don’t think a little more carefully about it or a little more deeply about it. And if you know the evidence, the data, in terms of the surveys that come from the United States, but they’re pretty consistent. And pretty telling that, by and large, the public supports hunting for food.

It doesn’t matter if those same species also have trophy benefits, additional benefits. So for example, there are massive surveys that tell us that, the public support hunting things like deer and turkey and whatnot. It’s when you get to the carnivores where those numbers are less than half of that, somewhere around, you know, 35 to 40%. If you mention trophy hunting or sport hunting then support is even lower. There’s only a minority of hunters engaged in hunting activity that most of society doesn’t like.

Generally in BC, wildlife face far bigger threats than from hunting. Policy is crafted based on more than just about numbers. They think about the treatment of animals and increasingly so do a fairly big chunk of society. The reality is policy is crafted using more than whether there’s a so-called harvestable surplus.

Those wildlife populations are embedded in a social system. People beyond hunters have real interests in those wildlife. People discuss things beyond just numerical sustainability.

It’s common as it’s in the public parlance. And that’s how people see this. I think a more productive conversation would revolve around certain species. 

The pattern in other domains is an era of grassroots empowerment via social media. What we’re seeing, for example, in the me too movement or black lives matter movement or in the environmental domain with, you know no Keystone XL and other things is that increasingly those that are unrepresented in major decision-making, whether it be in education or healthcare or environmental concerns, are no longer left in the dust. Their voices are no longer muted. 

In fact, their voices are now powerful, and increasingly so, heard by social media and policymakers, whether we’d like it or not. And this is not something that’s going to go away.

There’s been 20, 30 years of opposition against predator hunting in BC. This is not something that’s going to go away. So if I were to encourage hunters, in general, to think about anything, it would be to carefully consider what are the hills they want to die on, so to speak. 

What are the pros and cons of of fighting against opposition to so-called wolf control or wolf killing in general? You know, this opposition is something that’s likely not gonna go away. My feeling is based on what’s happened in the States and in some cases in Canada that we can expect more wildlife management decisions to be made after hopefully more deliberative, more careful listening to the public. Hunters would serve themselves well in understanding the values and interests of the non-hunting public, because, you know, after all, 85 to 90% of society are opposed to wolf killing.

Pryn: All right, Chris, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. I hope the hunting community isn’t upset with anything I’ve said, and they’re not disappointed that you and I didn’t spend an hour trying to tear strips off each other. 

Darimont: I appreciate it very much, Chris.

Pryn: Thank you.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.