Has the North American Hunting Community let British Columbia Down?

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I was listening to the most recent podcast from the Gritty Bowmen last night. Aron and Brian were talking about a number of cool issues like they usually do. I always learn something new about archery every time I listen to their show and I recommend following their podcasts. These guys talk their minds but always represent hunters and hunting in a responsible way. First and foremost they advocate that hunters need to be as skilled as they possibly can and to only hunt within their individual skill bubbles. As well, they advocate that hunting is about having fun and bringing home the meat. But the guys also dove into the recent announcement by the new British Columbia government to ban the grizzly hunt after November of this year. What concerned me about the podcast conversation is that the situation behind the grizzly hunting ban in British Columbia might be misunderstood by the broader hunting community. So I want to paint the picture more accurately for the entire North America hunting community and what the ban means to everyone. Don’t’ worry I’m not going to beat up the Gritty Bowmen – they are great guys!

The Cliff Notes on BC’s Grizzly Hunt Debate

Earlier this year I wrote and in-depth article on the grizzly hunt controversy in British Columbia where I looked at the different worldviews, tactics and failures of both sides of the debate. After the grizzly hunt ban was announced I published another article that addressed the wasteful issue of this new law that will prohibit hunters from keeping the head, paws and fur of a legally harvested grizzly. However, in my article today I specifically want to address the misunderstanding that British Columbians “voted” to ban grizzly hunting. 90% of British Columbians did not vote to end the grizzly hunt. There are two independent polls that published some “numbers” about trophy hunting and the grizzly hunt; however, as I will show those numbers are nothing more than alternative facts.

What is the Grizzly Hunting Ban Really About?

The grizzly hunt debate in British Columbia is about one issue. It’s not about grizzly bear conservation, it’s not about science, it’s not about the sustainability of hunting and it’s not about animal rights versus hunting. It’s about money and big business. The Wilderness Tourism Association says the banning of grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rain Forest of British Columbia could generate an estimated $1.5 billion in tourism revenue. See the picture now?

Once it was obvious that grizzly bears are cash cows for the tourism industry there needed to be “data” that justified banning the grizzly hunt.  Hunting stood in the way of the bear viewing industry from tapping into this massive profit potential. Based on a 2014 report commissioned by the Bear Viewing Association of BC the anti-grizzly bear hunting campaign claimed bear viewing generates more revenue in the province than bear hunting. The study area for this economic analysis; however, only looked at the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia (a fraction of BC’s total land area).  Only 11 of the 225 guide-outfitter territories in the province occur in the study area. Only 112 of the 9337 resident bear hunters hunted in the study area during 2013. Only 13 of the 53 bear viewing operators in the study area provided complete financial reports for the economic analysis. As published in the study, financial data for the remaining 40 bear viewing operators were “estimated where possible…”. This economic study was the start of a series of misleading statements made to the public to undermine the hunting community especially the families in BC that make their living from guiding non-resident hunters.

Proof is in the “Numbers”…Really?

Not everyone is convinced that decisions about how Nature is enjoyed should always be about profit. So there needed to be a better argument than the economic potential of bear viewing. There needed to be a public outcry to sway politicians to invoke laws to favour the tourism industry. If British Columbia continued to be known as a jurisdiction that allowed science-based grizzly hunting the tourism sector could not realize the full potential of the grizzly as a cash cow. So the next step was to turn the public against hunters. Enter the professional grizzly bear anti-hunting campaigners whose job it is to raise money and pull at the emotions of the general non-hunting public to sway them to anti-hunting.  To show that the majority of people oppose hunting grizzly bears the campaign needed “un-biased data” to show politicians that the people of BC really wanted the grizzly hunt banned.

A poll conducted in 2015 reported that 91% of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting which was defined as “hunting animals for sport”. 75% of British Columbian’s were reported to oppose the “killing of animals for their fur”. But 81% supported hunting animals for meat. The poll was not specific to grizzly bear hunting like it is purported to be.  The poll surveyed only 1,003 adult British Columbians. For a poll to claim that it represents the opinions of all British Columbians, of which there are 4.7 million of us, the poll needed a minimum of 1067 respondents by polling standards. The 2015 poll fell short. Short by only a few dozen people but short none the less. In science, if your data does not support the conclusion even after following the rules then you cannot say your results are valid. “Close enough” does not fly in the scientific community. The 2015 poll was inconclusive yet the statement that 90% of British Columbians oppose hunting grizzly bears became a statistic used as an election issue this past spring and it ended up driving a change to public wildlife policy. No elected official or public policy analyst bothered to look at the reliability of this poll and it was accepted at face value by political parties and the media. No one actually knows who commissioned the poll in the first place. Any guesses?

In March of 2017, as British Columbia’s election was ramping up, another poll surfaced which reported that 74% of Rural British Columbians oppose hunting grizzlies. Now the anti-hunting campaigners were claiming that even rural people oppose grizzly hunting and it’s not just city folks that oppose it. When I examined the integrity of this new poll I found that only 400 total voters for all 5 rural electoral districts included in the poll were surveyed (there are 85 electoral districts in BC). It was not reported whether participants were selected randomly for this poll.  Since pollsters chose to report the percentages by each of the 5 electoral district they needed to have randomly polled over a 1000 people per district (total of 5000+ people) to achieve a statistically reliable poll of +/- 3% margin of error at the 95% confidence limit.  The 5 districts have approximately 147,000 total voters so the survey is claiming that 296 people (74% of respondents) represent the opinions of 147,000 rural voters. Does this sound like the vast majority of rural British Columbians across the province oppose the grizzly hunt?

Between the two polls a total of 1208 people out of 4.7 million people in BC are apparently opposed to the grizzly hunt. Does this sound like the majority of British Columbia’s voted to ban grizzly hunting?  The use of alternative facts to drive public policy for wildlife management is a sad state of where wildlife management is at in the British Columbia. As one political leader stated – This [grizzly hunt ban] is a populist approach to wildlife management that does not achieve anything or satisfy either side of the issue.

The professional anti-grizzly hunting campaign also used First Nations in their platform by claiming that all First Nations in BC are opposed to hunting grizzly bears. First Nations are often used by professional environmental campaigners to sway public opinion. I have always advocated that First Nations can and do speak on their behalf and that others should not use them as leverage in their own agendas.  After the BC government’s announcement to end the grizzly hunt the Wildlife Stewardship Council of BC, who represents First Nation’s interests in wildlife management as well as numerous commercial guide-outfitters including First Nations owned/operated guide-outfitting businesses, released statements expressing their opposition to the way the decision to end the grizzly hunt was made.

“Politically motivated wildlife policies have led to management decisions that are not in the best interest of all wildlife and the people of B.C. The citizens of B.C. should be aware that the decision to end the grizzly hunt was made without benefit of scientific rationale or broad First Nation’s consultation. Some First Nations in B.C. have long engaged in guide outfitting as a way of life. Many others are now acquiring guide licenses to increase economic opportunities and management within traditional territories” –  Wildlife Stewardship Council

 “A most recent example is the proposed regulation change to the grizzly hunt that will require hunters to retrieve the meat, a change which the Wildlife Stewardship Council fully supports and has advocated for years. However, the citizens of B.C should also be aware that this same proposal will also force hunters to leave the hide, skull and claws behind, thus preventing the use of all parts of the animal. Substituting the retrieval of one part of a harvested animal for another part makes no sense. The WSC believes that any regulation requiring the wasting of any animal part is wrong.” –  Wildlife Stewardship Council

 What’s the Bigger Issue Here?

While I kicked off this article describing how I wanted to go on record correcting a misunderstanding that British Columbians actually voted to ban grizzly hunting, the bigger issue here is about hunters not standing together to protect the North American hunting heritage.  Hunters need to be united on all issues on conservation and our way of life across all of North America. We need to be educating each other and stand behind each other with the attitude that the border between Canada and USA and USA and Mexico is simply a political boundary. Advocacy and education about hunting and conservation must not stop at that artificial boundary.

Canada’s hunting population is tiny compared to that in the USA even though our land mass is larger. Our overall contribution to conservation is a fraction of that in the USA. In fact, our ability to generate revenue for conservation is so small that world class organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and National Wild Turkey Federation could not justify keeping a presence in Canada from a business perspective so they no longer officially operate north of the 49. Yet thousands of Canadians belong to both those organizations including myself because they are leaders in hunting and conservation messaging.

The North American hunting industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Canadian hunters contribute to this industry but in the grand scheme of things we are relatively insignificant in affecting the industry’s bottom line. British Columbia is an even smaller piece of this economic pie and even less significant from a market share perspective with just over 100,000 resident hunters in the province. Yet British Columbia is one of the largest and most biologically diverse regions in North America. In terms of size, BC extends from Washington State to the Mexico border.  BC is home to 25% of all of North America’s grizzly bears and most of the continent’s mountain goats and Stone’s Sheep.  In fact, BC contains representatives from the majority of North America’s big game animals. No other jurisdiction in North America has as many big game species as BC. Hunters across North America come to BC to enjoy this great land and what hunting here has to offer.  But when it comes to major issues like our declining wildlife populations and the fight to maintain a well-managed science-based grizzly hunt we are left in isolation.

For the most part, the North America hunting community knew nothing of the battle to end the grizzly hunt in BC until the official announcement was made and it hit social media. There was little support given by the broader hunting community in North America to stand behind BC hunters. Since the ban was announced many organizations have made after-the-fact statements objecting to the hunting ban.  I get it though. In the US, hunters are battling to protect their public lands and National monuments right now. There is no energy to engage in the issue of a grizzly hunting ban in BC, after all one can go to Alaska or the Yukon and eventually Americans will likely have a science-based hunt on the Yellowstone grizzly. However, by not being educated and engaged in the BC grizzly hunt debate, hunters have failed the greater cause of protecting the North American hunting heritage. The anti-grizzly hunting campaign here in BC is not a home grown movement. The campaign is likely backed and run by professional anti-hunting advocates from the US. They now have a victory in BC that they can leverage back in the US. This is where the North American hunting community has failed itself by thinking the grizzly debate was just a Canadian problem that didn’t affect the rest of hunters in North America. Anti-hunters have already publically stated that black bear hunting in BC is next on the agenda.

The Silence is Deafening

British Columbia is home to one of North America’s most popular professional sponsored hunters – Jim Shockey. Yet through this entire debate over the BC grizzly hunt there has been silence from the Shockey camp. Shane Mahoney of Conversation Visions is one of the most respected spokesmen for the American hunting conversation movement. As a Canadian, he is one of America’s most authoritative speakers on the history of conservation in the US. I know Shane is following the BC grizzly debate very closely as he does with hunting and conversation issues around the world. Watching trends that affect hunting and conservation and seeing the “big picture” is his forté. He is the master at it and I respect him for his abilities to see the future and for his efforts to get hunters in front of the issues facing us.  However, both these public figures had the opportunity to bring BC’s debate over the grizzly hunt to the world stage and rally the North American and the international hunting conservation community. Maybe they did and I missed it. But from where I sit, BC’s hunters were essentially left alone fighting a micro battle that represented a small strategic undermining of everyone’s hunting heritage. We lost and we lost in a forum of silence and apathy from the bigger hunting community.

I understand that sponsored hunters have contractual obligations that likely prevent them from jumping into the political arena. I can’t fault a person for doing what is required to bring home a paycheque and protect their families from hateful publicity. Most public hunting figures get so beat up on a daily basis that getting involved in the politics of wildlife management could be career suicide.  I understand that speaking about hunting and conversation in the US is better for one’s career than trying to make a living from it in Canada. American hunter conservationists want to hear about America conservation success stories and American conservation heroes. A Canadian message is hard to sell in that market. But when the Canadian caribou hunt in eastern Canada was shut down because of dwindling populations I was dismayed to see Jim Shockey post a statement that said something along the lines that he was happy to have a had chance to hunt that caribou herd before the closure and at least he can still hunt caribou in his guide territory in the Yukon. Caribou is part of the Canadian identity and the federal government recently removed it from our $0.25 coin and replaced it with an image of industrial progress.  I’m not sure the world knows or cares about what’s happening to wildlife and hunting in Canada.

I have the highest level of respect for folks like Aron Snyder, Brian Call, Randy Newberg and Steven Rinella who put their own principles, other hunters and conservation first and worry less about sponsorship and political correctness. Unfortunately, Canada does not have folks like these guys with their level of public exposure who are standing up for Canadian hunters and Canadian conservation issues. I also get it that many folks, including Canadians, believe what happens in the US hunting conservation movement will benefit Canadian hunters. That’s why so many Canadian hunters belong to US hunting conservation organizations, follow the podcasts and shows of the popular US hunters and know more about hunting and conservation issues the US than they do in Canada.

I write from the perspective of a Canadian hunter conservationist. I am trying to focus on issues affecting my home province of British Columbia and the future of wildlife and hunting in Canada because the world needs to know what’s going on here.  I hope that one day the rest of the North America hunting conservation community will care too. How can we all work towards becoming “hunter conservationists without borders”?

 

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Grizzly Hunting Ban in British Columbia – Is it the Motive of the Hunter or Utilization of the Animal That Matters Most?

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Today, on August 14th the British Columbia Government announced it would ban the hunting of grizzly bears after November 30thThe ban would mean all grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rain Forest along BC’s coast would be prohibited. Elsewhere in the province, hunters could still hunt the bears for meat except it will be illegal to retain the head, hide and paws.

What’s More Important to You?

Some people hold the belief that a wild animal harvested by a hunter should only be for the purpose of sustenance. After all, the purpose of hunting, as it began with our ancestors, has been first and foremost about acquiring food. However, early humans also used fur and hides for clothing and shelter. Bones were used as tools and building materials. Whale and mammoth bones were once used for the frames of shelters. Ancestors of modern humans, as well as many First Nations people today harvest wild animals for medicinal, ceremonial and spiritual purposes. Animal parts including feathers, tusks and claws are still used as personal adornments in many cultures. The use of wild animals is part of the human condition and it’s been part of what has connected people to the land for countless millennia. Some hunters and non-hunters believe that the meat of a wild animal must be eaten in order for the killing of the animal to be a moral act. Others believe that human hunters should not take pride or pleasure in utilizing other parts of their game animal (antlers, horns etc). Is it the motive of the hunter or the utilization of the animal that matters most to you?

Sum of the Parts

Digging into the research about the proportions of an animal’s body mass I found that an elk is roughly:

Viscera – 29%

Hide/head – 13%

Bones – 29%

Meat – 29%

I can’t find much published data on bears other than one account suggesting a bear’s viscera accounts for 10-15% of their total body mass.  I will present a few assumptions for the purpose of extrapolating the proportions of an elk’s mass to that of a grizzly bear. Elk are ruminant herbivores and have large multi-chambered stomachs so the proportion of viscera to total body mass might be slightly more for an elk than that of a bear. It’s likely the fur of a bear makes up a slightly higher proportion of their total body weight than does hair on an elk. With these assumptions I propose that the breakdown of a bear’s total body mass may be closer to:

Viscera – 15%

Hide/head – 25%

Bones – 30%

Meat – 30%

Want Not Waste Not – Is this British Columbia’s Approach?

The current statements made by the BC Government that it will only allow harvesting of grizzly bears for meat (head, hide and claws cannot be kept by the hunter) means approximately 70% of the mass of the animal might not get used by the hunter. Harvesting a bear for the head and hide uses about 25% and taking the head, hide and meat utilizes about 55% of the animal. Using the bones for soup stock (check the Meateater’s cooking tips for utilizing bones to make healthy organic soup stock) would increase utilization to 85% of the animal’s total’s body mass. There is no difference between a meat only hunt and hide only hunt when you look at it terms of utilization of the animal on a proportion of total body mass basis. Whether a hunter only takes the meat or just the hide a hunter would only be utilizing about 25-30% of the animals’ total body mass. Some non-hunters seem to believe that First Nation’s hunters have a more moral ethos about utilization of the game animals they harvest. Yet when non-aboriginal hunters advocate for the opportunity to utilize as much of a game animal as possible society seems to be discriminatory towards the non-aboriginal hunters.

Conservation First or Utilization?

The most important issue about grizzly bear conservation should not be about moral autocracy – imposing ones morals on another. Conservation must be about protecting grizzly habitat and limiting total human-caused mortality to less than 6% of the population. Science and monitoring is critical for ensuring a sustainable hunt. Education, tolerance and stricter enforcement are needed to reduce unwanted destruction of bears resulting from human-bear conflicts. Better solutions are needed to address highway and rail mortality of bears as well as conflict with agriculture producers who range domestic livestock in high use grizzly country.

Conservation means the wise use of natural resources. Regardless of how an individual hunter chooses to process and utilize his/her game animal including a grizzly bear, a meat and hide retention regulation ensures the greatest possible utilization of a sustainable harvested grizzly bear. In today’s world, the modern hunter conservationist needs to balance and temper his/her personal values with the expectations of society.  Equally important though, hunter conservationists must engage politicians and educate them about what certain wildlife policy actions really mean – like a prohibition on retaining the hide of a bear. If harvesting of grizzly bears is going to remain lawful in British Columbia then the responsible policy is to utilize as much of the animal as possible – just like our ancestors taught us.

 

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Death of the Landscape – Why Conservationists Need to Reverse What is Happening

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The invasive Yellow Hawkweed is displacing native forage for Bighorn Sheep in British Columbia’s Bull River herd. The herd has declined 40% in 1 year. Invasive weeds may be contributing to the demise of the population.

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” – Aldo Leopold

The View From Up Here Is Scary

Early in the spring as the sun set on the Rocky Mountains near my home in southeast British Columbia I stood in awe admiring Nature’s limestone cathedrals. It’s a sight that never gets old.  However, as Leopold wrote, an ecological education is a type of inescapable curse that taints how some of us see the landscape.   The yellow glow in the mountain basins that evening was simply the sunset highlighting the flowers of Yellow Hawkweed, an invasive weed that has spread from the valley floor and is taking over the pristine mountain habitats where Bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, grizzly bear and marmot depend on healthy natural plant communities. Yellow Hawkweed is a pretty yellow flower to most people but in reality it is one plant in a suite of extremely virulent invasive weeds that is changing the landscape forever.

Almost 30 years ago local ranchers in southern British Columbia recognized the threat to their livelihood from the invasive knapweed plant brought to North America from Eastern Europe in the 1800’s. The Kootenay Livestock Association started one of the largest and most extensive knapweed control programs in the province to try and halt the invasion of this weed on public range lands much of which is also critical ungulate wintering habitat. Weed control programs have been ongoing at varying intensities over the last 3 decades depending on government funding. Local ranchers are struggling to survive in the global market. Their time and abilities to control weeds on their grazing tenure lands is shrinking. The gains made during those first several decades are fading as the number of virulent plant species taking over public land is growing.

A Crisis of Epic Proportion

Invasive weeds are ranked as one of the top 5 threats to biodiversity across the globe.   According to the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia the results of a 2009 study on the economic impact of invasive weeds in the province indicated that without intervention, the economic damage caused by each invasive plant in the study was estimated to range from $1 to 20 million dollars, increasing to between $5 and 60 million by 2020. The total expected damages, in the absence of any management, were estimated to be a minimum of $65 million in 2008, rising to $139 million by 2020. The Council also reports that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency estimates that of the 485 invasive weed species in Canada, invasive weeds in crops and pastures alone cost approximately $2.2 billion every year. The Inspection Agency classifies 94 invasive species as agricultural or forest pests and estimates that these regulated species cost the Canadian economy $7.5 billion annually.

Consumers, natural resource users and tax-payers pay part of the burden of trying to implement invasive weed control programs.  On behalf of all the natural resource professionals, conservationists, naturalists, hunters, guide-outfitters, ranchers and farmers who are all trying to tackle the invasive weed issue on public land I think it’s fair to say we are simply overwhelmed by the scale of this issue. There is simply not enough funding for the scale of the problem and there are no effective legal mechanisms protecting the public’s land. The current regulatory framework does not fairly place enough responsibility for invasive weed control on companies, landowners and individuals that are causing the problems. Invasive weeds in British Columbia are not a problem they are a social, economic and environmental crisis of epic proportion.

Caught in the Cycle

Last year I published a letter in a local newspaper trying to communicate a message of how serious invasive weeds are and what that threat could mean to people with different values and interests on the land.  I had hoped that others would respond to this challenge and take up the cause. But that never happened. It was just one letter. One letter with a familiar message. It got lost in the noise of a modern society. The current narrative on invasive species management goes something like this:

The invasives are spreading – we need to apply for funding – we didn’t get enough funding – let’s do what we can – find em – spray em – the invasives are still spreading.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We are caught in this cycle of insanity when it comes to the current system of managing invasive weeds on public land. There is a saying though – necessity is the mother of all inventions. Well necessity has a firm grip on the throat of our land and the future of wildlife. Is this system of invasive species management that includes passive roadside spraying and manual spot treatment on flat accessible land really that effective? No it is not. Is there better ways to tackle the issue of invasive weed control to ensure the sustainability of the land?

  • Imagine what would happen if we taught grade 6 school children to identify invasive weeds and then gave them power to enforce invasive weed laws on landowners and natural resource companies.
  • Imagine what Nano scientists could create to help eradicate invasive weeds.
  • Imagine what would happen if the government paid a bounty for invasive weeds.
  • Imagine if every off-road motorized vehicle used on public land had a surcharge built into the insurance fee that could be used to pay for invasive weed control.
  • Imagine if hay packed into the backcountry to feed horses had to be certified weed free.
  • Imagine if all equipment used in land management had to pass through weed contamination facilities before getting a permit to move to a new area of public land.
  • Imagine how the natural resource sector would change land practices if government held security bonds to cover the risk of damage caused if invasive weeds colonized the land after they were done with resource extraction.
  • Imagine how different the investment in public and private land management would be if lands infested with weeds could be classified as contaminated sites and closed to the public, commercial use or re-sale.

Is Juice Worth the Squeeze?

Ecosystem change has been the most powerful natural force that has shaped the fate of wildlife species since the dawn of life. Wildlife that could not evolve and adapt to new and changing habitats have simply gone extinct. In the past, the main factor that drove changes in ecosystems was changing continental climate patterns. Today, invasive weeds are changing ecosystems at an unprecedented pace and scale. Invasive weeds are replacing native plants that wildlife depend on for food. Wildlife avoid eating invasive weeds because most of these plants are very unpalatable and even toxic to wildlife.  In the “do nothing” management scenario, wildlife that cannot adapt to a future landscape dominated by invasive weeds will go extinct.

Invasive plants are systematically undoing everything our conservation forefathers have achieved in the recovery and management of North America’s wildlife. The positive conservation accomplishments including; the banning of market hunting, creation of science-based wildlife management, establishment of wilderness areas, regulation of hunting, legislated endangered species protection and the formation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation could potentially end up nullified by the spreading plague of invasive weeds.

Is it all worth it though? Is all the effort, money and struggles to implement sustainable land management practices worth it? Is this overwhelming need to treat weeds with herbicides on so much of our land worth it?  Few contractors will carry backpack sprayers up into the mountains to spray weeds in Bighorn sheep habitat because it’s more profitable to spray road right-of-ways from the seat of their all-terrain vehicles. We live in a world where more people are disconnected from the natural world, have come to distrust science and know nothing about invasive weeds.  The hunter’s conservation message is at best white noise to society and at worst it is believed by many to be motivated by selfish interests. Is all this worth it?  If you are a hunter conservationist I know in your heart the answer is the same as in mine.

Realists are happy living with insanity. But the world is made better by those who have new ideas, by those with a new vision, by those who lead others out of the cycle of insanity.   Hunter conservationists have been the agents of change in times of need. Invasive weeds may be the greatest conservation imperative facing the future of all wildlife in North America.  Hunter conservationists need to change the system so our contribution to the conservation legacy of North America is one where we are remembered as the generation that halted the plague of invasive weeds on the land.

If you have yet to find a niche where you feel you are making a difference in conservation become a champion for getting rid of invasive weeds from your favorite wild places. One of the most valuable skills a hunter conservationist can learn is how to identify invasive plants. By doing so, you will, however, inherit Leopold’s curse of the ecological education. But conservation can only be achieved when people can see the problems and then take action.

 

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