I Was Hoping to Hear This….
My previous article titled Are Hunters Undermining Wildlife Conservation in the East Kootenay struck a chord with a lot of readers. I was overwhelmed with the number of individuals who privately contacted me and expressed their frustration over the people who are trying to manipulate hunting regulations and playing politics for personal gain. Many hunters are quiet humble people who prefer not to be in the spotlight or get involved in conflict. But so many of them told me they are angry and ready to do something about the individuals who act as if their opinions represent those of all hunters. It was reassuring to hear that there are many hunters out there who are supportive of true science-based wildlife management and who want the opinionated folks to ratchet it down in favour of more constructive round table dialogue.
I Was Not Expecting To Also Hear This Though…
I was taken back, however, by the number of people that wrote me and said that they were losing hope about the future of wildlife and hunting. Some hunters tell me they feel so bombarded with the issues and problems facing hunting and wildlife and with all the conflict between hunters that they feel like quitting hunting. “I feel like I’m being told to throw in the towel” as one hunter put it. Another hunter said he feels he may never get the opportunity to teach his young son about hunting and share the passions he has for the outdoors. Another reader told me he feels demoralized because older men in his own family are down on him for working so hard at hunting. They tell him he’s wasting his time because there is no wildlife left. Other people expressed feelings of being lost because there are so many issues facing hunting and wildlife that they do not know how to help.
Are We Really Living in the Empire Strikes Back Episode?
Over the last few years, the more I became involved in wildlife conservation, politics and standing up for wildlife and hunting, the more of the world’s problems seem to weigh me down. I was losing the ability to be happy when I was out hunting because wildlife and hunting problems plagued my every thought. I could never clear my mind and simply enjoy being present in the nature. The more I tried to get involved, the more my health and personal relationships were suffering. I was growing more and more frustrated that the important big picture conservation issues were always overshadowed by hunters attacking one another or from their being “stuck in the weeds.” Every time we seemed to make a bit of progress on building public trust, a sensationalized media campaign erupted over some stupid thing that a hunter posted on social media. I see subcultures of hunters who do nothing but hate. There also seems to be some folks in the hunting community set on destroying the people who are working the hardest to protect hunting and wildlife including hunting spokespeople, biologists, scientists and wildlife managers. I understand why many hunters feel their sense of hopelessness. It’s why I took a step back and revaluated where and how I wanted to be involved in wildlife conservation and the future of hunting.
It is a challenging time right now for wildlife and hunting in British Columbia. There are a lot of problems and threats. But it is not a time that warrants apathy, quitting or feeling that there is no hope for a better future. There is a tremendous amount to be thankful for in British Columbia. BC is the best jurisdiction in all of North America when it comes to hunting. For those of us that live here, our province and hunting way of life is worth fighting for. There is hope and hope lies within each of us. It just needs to find a way to get out. This is why I focus on trying to reach you with ideas through my writing.
Pessimistic, Optimistic or Realistic – Which Attitude Should Hunters Adopt for 2018?
I challenge all hunters to take some time in the New Year and reflect on what hunting means to you. Spend some time soul searching and really try to define the essence of hunting that is the most important for you. Understanding what’s important to you is the first step towards realizing there is hope. I also challenge you to take the weight of the world off your shoulders. Stop worrying about the world’s hunting problems. You can’t fix them all and no one is expecting you to. There are some really smart and passionate people working on wildlife and hunting problems. What they need more than anything is your support in trying to get elected officials to focus on big picture conservation issues.
In 2018, you have a choice in what type of attitude you can adopt towards the future of hunting and wildlife conservation. Inspirational writer William A Ward once said,
“The pessimist complains about the wind,
The optimist expects the wind to change and,
The realist adjusts the sail.”
Should hunters be optimists, pessimists or realists?
Pessimists are always shitting on everyone and everything. They often are the ones who make up the hater subcultures that exist within the hunting community. They do nothing to advance wildlife conservation or protect the future of hunting. In many cases they are the ones hurting us the most. In hunting, many of the pessimists are what a few of us jokingly call them GOWGs – Grumpy Old White Guys. Distancing yourself from the pessimists and haters can make a huge difference in encouraging your positive attitude in 2018.
Across the province, many of the people involved in wildlife conservation hear the old hunters complaining that younger hunters are not stepping up to become advocates for hunting and conservation. The GOWGs criticize and dump on the younger generations for their apathy and self-centered attitudes. Young people across the province tell us they want to be involved but they do not want to be around the GOWGs. Many younger hunters desperately want to help wildlife and promote a better image of hunting but they do not want to sit around with a generation of angry entitled hunters who are just mad at the world. Younger hunters have different values and they have more efficient ways of communicating with one another and organizing themselves using social media. Maybe 2018 needs to be the year that our oldest generations retire from the hunting-wildlife battles and support the younger generations to start talking about their vision for the future of hunting and what’s important to them.
Optimists can bring everyone’s spirits and confidence up because they always see the positive side of issues and they are thankful for what they have. Optimism can be infectious and inspiring. Optimists are often the cheerleaders in the crowd. But they can also be the ones that see the world through rose-coloured glasses and who don’t engage in tough discussions about the changes needed in wildlife management and hunting because of the belief that “it will all be ok.”
Realists see the big picture and they are the ones who think about the tactics that hunters need to employ in order to function and survive in a changing world. If realists are also empowering-type leaders, they can be the ones who unite and drive change by creating a movement. Realists, however, run the danger of only focusing on immediate challenges and always talking about the sky that is falling.
It’s clear that pessimism is hurting the future of hunting and wildlife. Pessimists need to fade out of the picture. We need more optimists and realists working together with a shared vision for the future. Possibly the best attitude you can adopt is to become an optimistic realist. An optimistic realist would identify the issues, study them objectively and set a course of action to solve problems while inspiring other hunters by giving them hope.
12 Ways Hunters Can Make a Positive Change in 2018
I’ve put together 12 inspirational life mantras that I’ve borrowed from other inspirational thinkers and adapted them so they have meaning to hunters. These mantras and life lessons, once adopted, have the ability to change the direction of hunting and wildlife conservation. If you are ambitious, work on one mantra each month in 2018. If that seems like too much, simply pick two and make them your goals for the New Year. Every bit of progress is a positive contribution. As Mahatma Gandhi said – “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
1) Pursue what makes you happy
You have the right to be happy and to pursue hunting in the way that brings you pleasure. You do not need to conform or meet other’s expectations. Simply hunt to be happy within yourself. Find the deeper personal meanings of hunting that bring you pleasure and seek them out as much as you can. Being passionate about wildlife and hunting means you care about some aspect of nature. People who care will act to protect what they love. You need to free yourself and not feel guilty for pursuing happiness in your hunting. Being happy can be considered the first step to changing the future of hunting. Celebrate hunting and be happy with what you have.
2) Respect others
Without respect for one another there can be no good outcomes for wildlife conservation or hunting. Treat every fellow hunter, non-hunter, anti-hunter, wildlife biologist, scientist or elected official like you would your grandmother. In 2018, don’t you think it’s time that hunting and wildlife conservation could do with a little less hate?
3) Embrace learning
The death of hunting and conservation will be ignorance. More than ever, you need to be well-informed and understand the complexities of the problems facing wildlife and hunting. Reading, learning and developing a voracious passion for knowledge about wildlife, conservation and hunting will empower you. Well-rounded, well-informed, balanced critical thinking and articulate hunters are the future of hunting and conservation. Diving into the scientific literature can be daunting though. I recommend getting onto Twitter and start following many of the brilliant young wildlife scientists and biologists that are out there working on the leading edges of wildlife management. Most of them simplify what their science is telling us and they are all super cool with answering questions. In 2018, seek to understand rather than being understood.
4) Check your opinions
In the words of comedian Tim Minchin, “Opinions are like assholes; everyone has one. Unlike your asshole, your opinions need to be regularly examined.” If a few more folks did some regular examinations in 2018, we might all be better off.
5) Teach others
Take some aspect of your passion for hunting, wildlife or love of the outdoors and share that with others. Teach people what you know and show them why you care so much. The best gains for wildlife and the future of hunting can be achieved by giving others the gift of knowledge and a reason to care about wildlife. Teach someone how to hunt and process their own wild food.
6) Contribute to conservation
Not everyone has time to dedicate hours per week as a volunteer in a hunting conservation organization. Don’t worry. You don’t have to. Research and find an organization whose ideologies, messages and efforts speak to you and just join. Something as simple as just having a membership makes a huge difference since the size of memberships often is what puts power behind an organization’s voice. For Canadian hunters, try to put your support behind an organization that’s dedicated to wildlife conservation and protecting hunting in Canada or your province. If joining an organization is not your thing, consider picking a cause and making a donation to wildlife once per year. You can never go wrong with contributing financially to a habitat project.
7) Support others
In British Columbia, there are approximately 115,000 resident hunters, yet there are only a handful of individuals who are working day in and day out advocating for wildlife conservation, hunters’ values and our hunting heritage. Often these spokespeople put themselves in the spotlight and they get ridiculed in media interviews and at public meetings. Far too often these leaders are also the target of hunter’s criticism and hate. Some leaders and spokespeople even receive death threats from within our own hunting community. Other leaders have been the victims of local hunters who have tried to destroy their families and careers. In 2018, take the opportunity to encourage these leaders, show them your gratitude and tell them you support them in what they are trying to do.
8) Be “pro” something
Stand for something positive. Be “pro” something rather than “anti” something. Distance yourself from haters and the hater subcultures. If you use social media or log into hunting chat sites that are filled with complainers and haters, do yourself a favour and unfollow them. Find like-minded people who stand for something positive and have constructive ideas.
9) Don’t show off
If there has been one thing in 2017 that has once again plagued the reputation of hunter conservationists, it has been the hunters that feel entitled to show off on social media. Ego and egregious behavior continues to hurt hunting and our conservation efforts in the public forum thanks to a few hunters who don’t have the foresight to anticipate social reactions to their online content. I believe it was Canadian Conservationist Shane Mahoney who called the move to put hunting onto television and into mainstream media as a grand social experiment that went dreadfully wrong. Fortunately, I see many good folks ratcheting down their personal social media and self-promotions out of respect for the institution of hunting and their fellow hunter.
10) Search for win-win solutions
Non-hunters are focused on wanting to talk about what hunting ought to be, and hunters are focused on defending what hunting is. Non-hunters want to see moral progress in hunting, and hunters are stuck in the past and on maintaining old traditions. Hunters are battling against hunters. Resident hunters are angry at Guide-Outfitters. Rifle hunters are angry at bow hunters and so on and so on. Each side in all these debates is entrenched in fighting for the win-lose outcome. When each side compromises on their values, ideologies and wants in order to find win-win solutions, everyone, especially wildlife, wins. In 2018, become a hunter who advocates for win-win solutions and accepts a bit of give and take.
11) Stand for truth
In this post truth era, we are constantly reminded of how people can take their opinions or made up facts and convince others that these opinions are “true.” Educating yourself will arm you with facts and evidence which, in turn, will allow you to become a person that stands for the truth. A person who stands for truth is more influential. In 2018, stand for truth. Demand that people speak the truth and demand that they support their claims with verifiable evidence and facts. Wildlife deserves a conservation framework based on truth and so do hunters.
12) No entitlement
Life Coach and Mentor Dick Rauscher says, “Our self-focused feelings of entitlement encourage us towards anger and the blaming of others when we don’t get what we feel we are entitled to in life… simply because we want it. But the primary danger that comes with our self-focused sense of entitlement… is the fact that it tends to create walls of envy between us and others.”
In 2018, learn to recognize entitlement and when you see it, call out those who suffer from it.
Two bonus mantras / life lessons:
13) Celebrate more
To the hunting conservation leaders in Canada working on our behalf, please make 2018 the year you balance problems facing hunting and wildlife with successes and celebrations of wildlife, hunters and the hunt. Giving people a reason to care is also about being an optimistic realistic leader. When hunters are bombarded with issues and problems on a daily basis, we all get overwhelmed and that can lead to that sense of hopelessness. A sense of hopelessness can lead to giving up and that leads to a lose-lose outcome for wildlife and the future of hunting.
14) Recognize contributions
To all elected officials representing the people, make 2018 the year that you recognize the knowledge, skills and contributions that rural people make to conservation. Become the leaders that break down these damaging urban vs. rural and hunter vs. non-hunter strifes that plague wildlife conservation in British Columbia.
To my fellow Hunter Conservationists, here’s to hope in the New Year and the role we all play in changing the future.
Yours in Hunting and Conservation,
Mark LR Hall
The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is recognized as the most successful wildlife management framework in the world. The Model has 7 principles (tenets) which every hunter conservationist should be able to recite and effectively use in any argument regarding sustainable hunting and wildlife management. Watch Steven Rinella, host of the MeatEater show, explain the Model in this short video.
The 7 principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation:
#1 – Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust
#2 – Prohibition on Commercial Markets for Wildlife
#3 – Hunting Opportunity for All
#4 – Wildlife Can Only be Killed for Legitimate Purposes
#5 – Wildlife are International Resources
#6 – Science is the Proper Tool to Discharge Wildlife Policy
#7 – Democrat Rule of Law
The purpose of principle number 6 means that science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy.
“The North American Model recognizes science as a basis for informed management and decision-making processes. This tenet draws from the writings of Aldo Leopold, who in the 1930s called for a wildlife conservation movement facilitated by trained wildlife biologists that made decisions based on facts, professional experience, and commitment to shared underlying principles, rather than strictly interests of hunting, stocking, or culling of predators. Science in wildlife policy includes studies of population dynamics, behavior, habitat, adaptive management, and national surveys of hunting and fishing.”
This description means science must be used to understand wildlife and humans. Hunters cannot support one and not the other and expect sustainable wildlife populations and the continuation of their hunting heritage. However, in British Columbia where I live and in particular the East Kootenay region of the southeastern part of the province I am witnessing attempts to undermine the North American Model by some of my fellow hunters.
A Disappearing Resource
Wildlife in British Columbia are disappearing from the landscape. Not because of hunting but because this province has been failing to adequately invest in wildlife management and habitat protection for nearly 40 years now. Ultimately, we are witness to the failure of principle #1 of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. We the people on BC entrusted our wildlife with the government and they are failing us. Hunters know the land well and they are witness to the impacts of cumulative environmental effects at a scale and pace never seen before in their lifetimes. There is shear and utter panic within the hunting community because they know that as wildlife disappear so does the hunters way of life. But rather than rally around the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation and unite behind a common goal of putting more wildlife back on the land, improving investment in wildlife conservation and embracing science many hunters are simply trying to impose their view of the world on everyone else including the policy makers. So many hunters have fallen into the trap “I’m right and you’re an idiot” and the way to realize this is to have a dialogue so that the most opinionated folks can open the minds of others with an ice pick. To stay true to the North American Model there is no place for personal opinions or agendas to drive the management of wildlife that belong to the people.
The Importance of Science in Hunting and Wildlife Management
Science is a process where observations of real world phenomena lead to the formulation of research questions. Objective research studies are designed to answer these questions without biasing the conclusions. A key part of the scientific method is that each research study is designed so that scientists have the best chance to clearly identify what is causing what. They do this by ensuring they can look objectively at a number of possible variables that might explain what is going on. For example, scientists might want to understand what is causing high mortality of deer fawns. Their research could look at a number of factors like malnutrition, overcrowding, competition, predation, disease, winter severity, car collisions and so on and so. The research study, which can be broken into a number of individual studies, might then lead to finding out, by some order of magnitude, what things are causing deer fawns to die. Once scientists present the evidence that explains what is going on wildlife managers have facts to base management decisions on. Facts and evidence decrease the uncertainty in making specific management decisions which in turn increases the probability that wildlife management goals can be achieved. A well designed study can be replicated which means that the study can be repeated to see if the original findings can be confirmed. If the repeat study does not support the findings of the first study scientists then dig deeper and start to ask more questions. These questions lead scientists back to the drawing board where they have a better chance of finding out the truth if they adjust and re-run the study. Once a scientific study is completed and submitted for publication other scientists scrutinize the research and its findings. Peer reviews adds integrity to the scientific method by giving managers and policy makers greater certainty when they implement scientist’s recommendations.
The Door Flings Open and In Walks….Mr. Big Hunter
Here is when the modern opinionated hunter enters. Rather than taking what he observes while out hunting and posing questions that would lead us all down a path of identifying facts and evidence many of these vocal know-it-alls toss the virtue of being humble out the window and step onto the soap box and proclaim emphatically – “Now listen to me. This is what’s going on. I’m right and you’re an idiot” like some type of hunting evangelist whose word shall not be questioned. Far too many hunters these days believe what they experience while out hunting and what they think is really going on is the absolute truth. I even see hunters have exact numbers, percentages and statistics for what they claim they know is true. “Deer numbers are down by 70% from last year”, “I fed 2000 elk hay all last winter and those elk had a higher survival rate than those that were not fed”, or “99% of hunters agree that hunting antlerless deer has decimated the population”. In this post truth era Mr. Trump might be interested in some of these “facts” because the more one espouses them the greater chance everyone will eventually accept them as truths.
In Idaho a few years ago there was an elk herd whose calf recruitment was down to less than 9 calves per 100 cows. It’s a rule of thumb in wildlife biology that if you let calf recruitment drop below about 14 calves per 100 cows the herd is doomed. At that level, typically no amount of management can bring the elk population back up. It’s called the death spiral in population dynamics. Idaho hunters cried wolf. They demanded the state undertake a wolf cull. The local hunters figured they knew more about what was going on than anyone else; therefore, there was no reason to study the problem. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided the state with funds for a 2 year predator study. The study proved that, in that particular elk herd, cougar predation was causing the high calf mortality not wolves. Using the evidence, the state worked with local hound hunters and made the cougar season more liberal. Within a few years the elk herd rebounded as calf survival increased. The moral of the story is that if the opinions of hunters would have been the sole basis for wildlife management that elk herd in Idaho would have been extirpated. There is no doubting that hunters play an important role in raising red flags in wildlife management but in the name of conservation hunters must support the science that will help us all find the truth or at least get closer to it. If hunters simply reject science and battle the process just to get a “win” then those hunters need to accept the consequences when they are wrong. If other hunters don’t stand up to the loud know-it-alls they have to accept responsibility as well if a populist decision fails to benefit wildlife. The main question I pose to hunters is; do you want to be right more than you want healthy wildlife populations?
The Tale of Two Fields of Study
What many hunter folks are missing in their understanding of science in wildlife management is that principle # 6 of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation includes formal surveys of hunting and hunters.
Science in wildlife policy includes studies of population dynamics, behavior, habitat, adaptive management, and national surveys of hunting and fishing.
Human dimensions science needs to be a tool used by modern wildlife managers to understand what hunters are seeing in the woods, what red flags they are raising, what they support and what types of things are important to their hunting experience. This is the human dimension side of wildlife management and it is a field of wildlife science that is critical to the sustainable management of wildlife everywhere in the world including North America.
Recently in British Columbia, a human dimensions hunter survey was completed on mule deer hunters who had hunted in the Region 3 wildlife management unit. Before the survey some of the noisy local hunters were saying that mule deer management was a disaster. The survey actually showed the majority of hunters were generally satisfied with mule deer hunting in the region, the regulations, the management approach and the numbers of deer they saw while hunting. Contrary to what the know-it-alls were saying lots of hunters in the survey support an antlerless mule deer season and said they would like a few more antlerless tags allocated if the population could support it. Most hunters felt there was too much road access and road hunting in key mule deer habitats. The interesting thing about this study was the things that a few loud opinionated local hunters were saying was not what the vast majority of hunters across the province said. That’s the value of using science in understanding what all hunters have to say rather than the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” approach.
A scientific approach to understanding what hunters have to say is what a good human dimension hunter survey will give us. The Region 3 hunter survey showed there was very good alignment between scientific principles in mule deer ecology and what the majority of hunters in the survey said. Human dimension and wildlife science must be combined to create sustainable wildlife management policy if wildlife conservation is going to progress in this province. Sustainable wildlife management requires adequate funding, lots of science and overwhelming social support. Funding pays for wildlife science and hunter surveys. When hunters are surveyed in an unbiased manner the survey results show us what the majority of folks really think and there is more overall support for the outcomes of the process. All too often in public meetings a few aggressive opinionated people tend to force others into groupthink. Some hunting conservation clubs are afflicted with this type of culture too.
“Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”
I Got a Bad Feeling About This
In the East Kootenay region in British Columbia where I live, hunters have become obsessed with a single aspect of wildlife management in the region. The East Kootenay region has more big game animals than any other region of British Columbia. There is some kind of hunting opportunity every single month of the year. However, we are not without our wildlife problems. Despite repeated changes to hunting regulations mule deer populations continue to decline and have never rebounded from the severe winter of 1996/97. There is no formal management plan to recover mule deer populations even though they continue to decline. Some valleys no longer support the large elk herds that they used to. More and more deer are taking up residence in urban areas and no one knows exactly why. Chronic wasting disease has been detected in deer just to the east of us in Alberta and now 5 confirmed cases were found in Montana to the south. Our government monitors for CWD but has no plan for when it does show up here. Vigilantes are taking it upon themselves to feed elk contrary to provincial policy as well as poison predators. The region’s Shiras moose populations are declining and many of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep herds have declined to the point where they are below the thresholds that our wildlife policy says can sustain hunting. There are no formal management plans to recover moose or wild sheep herds either. Fire is rarely used to improve large areas of valuable wildlife habitat and we salvage log wildfires rather than leave the habitat as Nature intended for wildlife.
The East Kootenay Region of British Columbia
Very little is invested back into wildlife management in BC or the East Kootenay region. For example, BC invests $36 per km2 of land into wildlife management. Idaho invests $488, Oregon invests $863, Montana $186, Utah $386, Washington $832 and Alberta $56. BC has 18 species of big game animals. The most these other jurisdictions have are 10 to 11 big game animals. Our government is failing its duty to hold wildlife in the public’s trust.
Local hunters are mad and screaming for change in wildlife management in the East Kootenay. Are they mad about the potential loss of one of North America’s only general open seasons on full curl Bighorn Sheep? Or are they mad the province has no recovery plan for mule deer populations? Or are they upset that our government invests less than every other jurisdiction in western North America into wildlife management? Well a few of us are upset about these things and we are trying to change them. But many of my fellow local hunters are most mad that the region allows hunters the opportunity to harvest one antlerless white-tailed deer for sustenance.
White tailed deer are the most abundant, resilient and prolific ungulate on the North American continent. White-tailed deer inhabit almost every ecosystem in North America including semi-desert and the northern boreal forests. Contrary to many other wildlife species, white-tailed deer have thrived and expanded as result of human development. They are the easiest species to manage for hunter opportunity. White-tailed deer are one of North America’s wildlife species that is considered over populated in many areas of the continent. Many hunters and biologists do not want white-tailed deer expanding their range into the western ranges of mule deer or into the boreal forests where endangered caribou are struggling to survive. White-tailed deer are source of a brain parasite killing moose in the eastern part of North America. White-tailed deer recover the quickest of all ungulates after a severe winter because of their prolific ability to twin and use almost any habitat type. White-tailed deer might feed more families than any other big game animal and revenue from deer hunting in North America surpasses the revenue of many countries. Many white-tailed management programs in North America work on harvesting 2 antlerless deer for every buck harvested in order to maintain social and ecologically balanced populations.
White-tailed deer harvest data from the East Kootenay region shows that neither the buck nor the antlerless seasons are negatively affecting the population. A new 2016/17 study showed that white-tailed deer are the most abundant animal showing up at camera traps sites across the region and that deer prefer to stay away from roads and human trails. Science shows us that if you want to recover mule deer populations managers need to improve mule deer habitat, reduce cougar populations and/or reduce white-tailed deer competition. You can’t maximize white-tailed and mule deer densities on the same piece of ground. But many local hunters are raising concerns that they feel the white-tailed deer population has been decimated by antlerless hunting. White-tailed buck harvests are indexed to the population and harvest data in the East Kootenay shows no major downward trend in the deer population. But something is amiss. Hunters say deer numbers are way down. Some hunters disagree with the harvest data and are adamant that the antlerless deer harvest season is decimating the white-tailed deer population. What’s really going on?
The Pending Drama
Rather than embrace the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and advocate that we need do more work to better assess the deer harvest, some loud opinionated folks are cranking up the band wagon. A few radical hunters are bypassing all the stakeholder committees and round table groups where hunters and biologists discuss wildlife management and hunting opportunity. These radicals are pushing their “I’m right and you’re an idiot” agenda and there are plenty of ice picks coming out to help open the minds of the rest of us to their versions of the truth. Even when looking at the science of white-tailed deer management many hunters seem to simply reject all the rationales based on emotion and a need to be right about something. As much as what hunters claim we should use science and that wildlife management should not be based on emotion I feel too many hunters have been influenced by the Disney Bambi syndrome when it comes to being objective about antlerless deer hunting and people who just want to get some wild meat.
Some radical hunters have taken the next step and are harassing elected officials to attempt to coerce them into intervening in wildlife management decisions. This is the type of populist wildlife management that many of these same hunters were outspoken about when the debate over the grizzly hunt was made yet there they go doing the same thing. Other hunters are harassing and intimidating government biologists in attempts to coerce them into setting wildlife management strategies that align with their personal views of the world. When the science on white-tailed management and local harvest/population data are brought into the discussion some hunters say the information is all a bunch of lies exactly the same way anti-hunters did in the grizzly hunt debate when they said the biologists bear population estimates were a results of corruption in government. Some hunters are starting to use the phrase “beware of the science trap” meaning they are against the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and just want wildlife management to be based on the popular opinions of hunters.
A few local hunters are so aggressive in wanting their ideas on how the deer season should be set up they are getting ready to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into an anti-hunting like campaign in the New Year. The campaign is apparently going to be designed to convince the non-hunting public that hunters that choose to harvest an antlerless deer for food are decimating the deer population. They apparently plan to slander government biologists and get people to harass them in an attempt to coerce the government into banning the antlerless deer season. Many organized hunting conservation clubs, even ones that are genuinely asking whether the current antlerless harvest is sustainable or not, are distancing themselves from these radical anti-hunting hunters because they fear that their campaign will backfire and the non-hunting public is going to demand all hunting be shut down just like they did with the grizzly hunt.
The hunter folks planning this campaign probably have good intentions rooted in a desire for someone to simply hear their concerns. In part, their anger and hatred represents a failure of our wildlife management system because folks don’t feel they have a way to be heard. But where these folks will fail is if they do launch a public slander campaign based on morally autocratic ideology and coercive intimidation tactics. If these hunters are truly concerned about conservation they need to be raising their concerns in a constructive way with other hunters and biologists. Instead these outspoken know-it-all hunters attack those that question their anti-science ideologies and have forced some others into the groupthink phenomena. Many hunters just want to be accepted by their peers and not get marginalized for thinking more critically about popular opinions so they are jumping on the anti-biologist band wagon. I wonder if they will have placards at their rallies that read “Ban the Deer Hunt” or “Stop the Bambi Killers“.
A Better [Deer] Path Forward
Whenever we deviate from science, wildlife and hunting opportunities decline. Science-based wildlife management requires both rigorous studies of wildlife and human dimension surveys of hunters. Hunters need to have more meaningful ways to contribute local knowledge and have an equal opportunity to voice their concerns or ask questions without being run over by the loud mouths.
If the opportunity to harvest one antlerless white-tailed deer in the East Kootenay is the precipitous event that gets the government of BC to realize the approach to wildlife management and funding for science in this province needs a complete overall then maybe the ensuing public controversy about to unfold in the New Year and the damage to the reputation of all hunters that follows will serve some useful purpose. If rationale thinking hunters decide to jump on this anti-biologist anti-antlerless deer season band wagon and be part of a slanderous intimidation campaign aimed at government biologists then they must also bear the responsibility if the campaign backfires and it makes us all look so bad that we lose all our hunting opportunities. If you don’t want to participate in any disrespectful or ignorant filled campaign but you still want to maintain your dignity as a hunter conservationist and deep commitment to the institution of hunting then embrace the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and advocate that its principles be followed. Help foster collaboration at the community level so we can all work together to make wildlife management better through the use of well-funded wildlife science and objective science-based hunter surveys.
The future of hunting is in your hands. Please choose wisely.
As the end of 2017 approaches the BC government is expected to introduce legislation to ban the grizzly bear “trophy hunt”. All grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rain Forest will be banned but in the rest of the province the new legislation is anticipated to just ban hunters from keeping the head, hide and claws. The head, hide and claws are what the government are defining as the “trophy parts” of a grizzly bear. Hunters will only be allowed to keep the meat and the trophy parts will have to be turned in to government biologists who then will either give them to First Nations or dispose of them in a landfill. The new law won’t affect First Nations hunters so they will be allowed to hunt grizzlies and keep all the trophy parts.
In previous articles I wrote about the tactics that the anti-grizzly bear hunting campaigners used to advance their agenda to ban the grizzly hunt, how the North American hunting community failed to support BC hunters in their opposition to this campaign and how a ban on trophy parts will lead to wasting useable portions of a harvested animal. The ban, however, is not solely a result of what anti-hunters, non-hunters, government or the international hunting community did or did not do. A series of failures by hunters in the province extending back several decades are responsible for hunters losing the opportunity to hunt grizzly bears in BC. To sum it up, the grizzly bear hunt ban is a result of the hunting community failing to be proactive and progressive in the face of changing social attitudes towards hunting. The hunting community has failed on three basic levels:
Failure of tactics
Public awareness of and objections towards bear hunting in BC began back in the 1970s. In 2001, a three-year moratorium on hunting grizzly bears was enacted by the government of the day. Conflicts between bear hunters and grizzly bear tour operators began to hit the media in BC around 2015 and the hunting community did not act to proactively resolve the conflicts. Social media increasingly became a place where animal rights activists used photos and videos uploaded by hunters to sway the public and journalist’s attitudes about grizzly hunting and bear hunters. The shift in public opinion was the political lever anti-hunters were after. The public’s general concern for animal welfare and opposition to hunting has been changing in many countries including Canada. That concern culminated with the Cecil-the-Lion controversy which the hunting community failed to use as a proactive opportunity to self-reflect. Hunters in BC failed to recognize all these signs and keep the narrative on hunting positive.
Failure of vision
The hunting community failed to create a vision of the future – a vision that would have painted a picture of how hunters want to be viewed by society. I believe the majority of hunters feel the narrative on hunting should be one where hunting is simply accepted as a normal part of our culture where the focus is on wildlife conservation. Many hunters, however, have failed to align their actions, behaviours and attitudes with any semblance of what a modern society would consider as normal.
Failure of strategy
The hunting community failed to execute a strategy based on a collective vision of the future. In fact, the failure is not the lack of executing a strategy rather it was the total absence of an actual strategy. There have been no attempts to objectively understand what causes non-hunters to oppose hunting or to develop solutions that address those causes. Many non-First Nations hunters have failed to accept that hunting is not a right in Canada and they have failed to accept that the future of hunting depends on maintaining social license from the non-hunting public. Maintaining that social license requires a well-though out strategy.
The Top 9 Grizzly Hunting Arguments that Failed to Change the Minds of Non-Hunters
In the flurry of public opposition to grizzly bear hunting that surrounded the BC provincial election in the spring of 2017, a fragmented and unorganized hunting community scrambled to justify why the grizzly hunt should be allowed to continue as is. The most organized articulate hunters and scientists tried to get the debate to focus on the most important grizzly conservation issues such as habitat and non-hunting mortality. The public and media; however, were stuck on the act of shooting a bear and the sensationalism around that aspect of hunting was not effectively counter balanced. Hunters were painted as the evil doers. Individual hunters jumped into the debate and tried to aggressively impose their own arguments on others which served to entrench non-hunters in their positions. Unfortunately, the arguments put forth by many of these hunters and even some hunting organizations, failed to resonate with the non-hunting public. In fact, some of the arguments given by hunters were so unsound that the anti-hunting folks were able to expose the flaws in the arguments without much effort.
- Argument: “The grizzly hunt is necessary to control bear populations”
The objective of science-based wildlife management in BC is to ensure hunting does not reduce or destabilize grizzly bear populations. The objective has been to allow a hunt on grizzly bears because hunters want the opportunity to hunt them not because biologists wanted to control or reduce bear populations. In some areas of BC, biologists are still trying to recover populations and understand causes of declines. Science has shown that the regulation of the grizzly hunt needs to be set up so that hunting does not push human-caused mortality, in any population unit, above 6%. Most grizzly populations are closely monitored especially in the southern regions of the province. High levels of non-hunting mortality (especially on breeding-aged females) have even lead to hunting closures in some population units in order to maintain a conservative management approach to hunting. The argument that hunting is necessary to control bear populations is an argument that many hunters believe is true, however, it was an argument that failed to change attitudes of the non-hunting public towards grizzly hunting.
- Argument: “Use science not emotion”.
Some hunters argued that the ban was decided on the emotions of the non-hunting public. These hunters argued that science should be used instead of emotions. Hunters who used this argument lacked a basic understanding of the role of science in decision making and the difference between emotions and personal value/belief systems. Some non-hunters have values and belief systems where they feel the killing of animals, for any reason, is not a moral act. Hunters hold different values and belief systems. Telling others that their deeply held personal beliefs are wrong didn’t get much traction in the public forums. These differing value systems do not mean that non-hunters oppose the grizzly hunt because they are emotional and that hunters want to preserve hunting because they are unemotional. Hunters using this argument inferred that non-hunters are “over emotional” and that science should override these people’s emotions because science-based wildlife management is un-emotional. Science is objective when it tests a hypothesis but the choice of what to study can be, and is often, influenced by social values and sometimes even emotions. Science does control what society can or cannot do. Science provides a course of action that society can use to meet social objectives. Science provides options, trade-offs and consequences of decisions that society is faced with making. There is no body of science that mandates grizzly bears must be hunted in BC. It has been my observation that some hunters are as emotional and irrational about the grizzly hunt as some non-hunters.
- Argument: “The hunting ban caters to a minority special interest”
Resident hunters make up about 2.4% of the total population of BC. Hard core anti-hunters might be a minority in BC but there are definitely more non-hunters than hunters in the province. The argument that a hunting ban is catering to a minority special interest is akin to the pot calling the kettle black. To argue that non-hunters should not have a say in wildlife policy is a rather undemocratic way of thinking since the province’s wildlife belongs to all the people of BC. The fact that hunters tried to use this argument to counter opposition to the current grizzly hunt showed there was a lack of a rational understanding of the democratic process, politics and demographics in the province and a lack of understanding for the concepts of advocacy, equality and equity. The very things hunters argue for when they want hunting to be preserved.
- Argument: “Hunting grizzly bears is needed because adult male bears kill cubs”
Researchers from Cambridge University reported that infanticide was observed in 119 of 260 mammalian species that were studied. Infanticide is reported to occur in fish, insects, amphibians, rodents, birds and mammals. Hunting of grizzly bears in BC was never a management tool used to prevent cub mortality as some hunters claimed. The fact remains; infanticide is a natural part of the animal world and it is likely important to the survival and evolution of species in ways that we may never fully understand. The thought of infant animals being killed is emotional for hunters and non-hunters but brown bears have evolved and survive just fine as a species even though infanticide is part of their natural behavior. The non-hunting public likely accepts this fact better than some hunters do. Consequently non-hunters were not convinced that hunting grizzly bears is necessary so humans can “prevent” the natural cub killing phenomenon. On one hand, some hunters were trying to tell the public that hunting is necessary to control bear populations and, on the other hand, other hunters were saying hunting is necessary to prevent cub mortality so the bear populations can increase. This contradiction was not difficult for the anti-hunting organizations to use to make hunters look bad. Anti-hunters were quick to point out the number of female grizzlies hunters were shooting every year which tended to discredit the supposed biological benefits of the cub killing-hunting argument.
- Argument: “Grizzly bears are wiping out other wildlife species”
Bears require a diet of vegetation and protein so they will actively hunt other animals. In some parts of the world scientists have studied the effects of grizzly/brown bear predation on ungulates. In some cases, the effect on ungulate populations is significant. However, hunters tried to convince the public that grizzly bears need to be hunted because they are apex predators that are “wiping out” populations of moose, caribou and elk. If any predator (other than humans) had the ability to cause another species to go extinct they probably would have done it thousands of years ago. Given that the grizzly hunt was tightly regulated so that hunter harvest did not cause population declines the effect of removing a few hundred bears across the entire province of BC would not have been enough to change their overall impact on ungulate populations. The non-hunting public is not convinced that grizzly hunting is needed to ensure that a small proportion of the bear population does not prey on other wildlife. As with the case of infanticide in the animal world, the non-hunting public appears to accept the role of grizzlies as a natural predator of ungulates better than some hunters.
- Argument: “Hunting reduces human-bear conflict”
The hard reality of this argument is that it is pure speculation. Scientists have not thoroughly tested the hypothesis that hunting reduces human-bear conflict so there is no reliable data or defensible conclusions on this topic. If reducing conflict were the reason biologists needed to implement a grizzly hunt then it’s logical to say that the hunt would have been set up to reduce bear populations closer to human settlements and that hunting bears would not be necessary in the remotest regions of the province. While some hunters claim science should be used to manage all wildlife populations they tried to justify the grizzly hunt using an argument that has simply not been tested by scientists. The non-hunting public was much more on top of the published wildlife literature than many hunters and they were quick to discredit this argument.
- Argument: “Urban people don’t have to live with grizzly bears”
Some hunters who engaged in the grizzly hunt debate appeared to have a grudge against people living in populated centers even though a large number of hunters reside in the province’s largest cities. Some hunters argued that urban people “don’t have a clue about the real world”. Others argued that because the populated areas around Vancouver (where most of the province’s population is centered) no longer supports grizzly bears that urban people are not entitled to have say on wildlife policy in the rural areas of the province. Elements of this argument suggested that people living in rural areas are inundated with grizzly bears wreaking havoc on life and property and somehow hunting was helping fix the “problem”. Living in grizzly country is a choice the same as living in an urban center is a choice. These choices have nothing to do with a person’s rights or intellect. The argument that urban people are less intelligent citizens when it comes to participating in grizzly policy decisions simply did not resonate with non-hunters whether those folks lived in rural or urban communities.
- Argument: “Hunting pays for conservation”
Hunting does not pay for conservation in BC it contributes to conservation. A surcharge placed on hunting licenses and game tags is collected and re-invested back into conservation. Hunters in Canada do not “pay” for conservation to the same level that hunting license fees and excise taxes do in the United States. Excise taxes on outdoor equipment, firearms and ammunition generates roughly $1 billion a year in the USA and many state-level fish and wildlife conservation programs are supported by hunting and fishing industry tax dollars. There are no excise taxes like this in Canada. British Columbia is one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America yet it has one of the lowest levels of funding for wildlife management. If the wildlife budgets of BC’s neighbours are an indication of the funding benchmark for good wildlife management then hunting is not coming close to paying for wildlife management in BC. The vast majority of conservation in BC is born by the tax payers. The fact that hunters do not pay for all conservation is something that hunters have failed to recognize when they use this argument. Many of the non-hunters have a better handle on the economics of hunting in BC than hunters do.
- Argument: “Science says the grizzly hunt is sustainable”
A published scientific paper released in 2016 by the province’s top grizzly researches demonstrated how BC’s management of the grizzly hunt was sustainable. Hunters hailed the study and subsequently used it to counter opponents arguing against the grizzly hunt. The primary failure of the hunters’ argument was not that the science was flawed but the logic in how the science was used in the grizzly hunt debate. Most opponents to grizzly hunting that I observed objected to the hunting of grizzly bears based on moral principles. Whether or not science demonstrated that the hunt was sustainable was irrelevant to these people. Many hunters argued that science should be used to manage the grizzly hunt yet they turned around and openly rejected the province’s other scientific studies on grizzly bears. In a public meeting where a grizzly bear PhD candidate researcher was updating hunters on a local grizzly study some of the local hunters and guides publicly criticized the researcher for reporting when bears in his studied died claiming the deaths were affecting the number of grizzly hunting permits that would be allocated for “their” area. It was hard to tell who was on whose side sometimes. For some hunters, science is accepted only when it aligns with their own opinions. Hunters who reject science out of convenience or to protect their ego discredit the entire hunting community when we advocate for more science-based wildlife management. The non-hunting community sees these contradictions as well.
He Who Holds the Gold Makes the Rules
On a recent MeatEater podcast Greg Blascovich, a researcher in the United States with a PhD in political communication and President of the Keep it Public campaign, shared the results of a research study he completed on non-hunters reactions to hunter’s arguments. Blascovich’s study looked at how non-hunters attitudes towards hunting changed by accessing their reactions to 5 common arguments hunters use to justify hunting. The study assessed whether non-hunters attitudes toward hunting became more positive or remained unchanged depending on the particular argument provided to them.
The study showed that attitudes towards hunting among the non-hunter participants in the study were positive when they were given the following arguments:
- Hunting is a way to acquire a sustainable food source.
- Hunting is regulated by biologists.
The attitudes towards hunting among the non-hunters in the study did not change when they were given the following arguments:
- Hunting needs to continue because it’s a tradition.
- Hunting is needed to control animal populations.
When it came to using the argument “Hunting generates revenue for conservation”, Blascovich found some un-expected results. If the non-hunters participating in the survey declared themselves as “environmentalists” their attitude towards hunting was not positive when they were given the argument that hunting is necessary because it generates revenue for conservation. If the survey participants said they were not environmentalists their attitudes toward hunting were more positive when they were given the same argument. The take away message from the Blascovich study is that arguments in support of hunting that resonate strongly with hunters do not automatically resonate with non-hunters. This concept is critical to understand because hunters need the support of non-hunters if hunting is going to survive.
What Does the Future Hold for Hunting?
In the final stages of bringing in the grizzly trophy hunting ban into legislation the BC government opened up a public comment period. Hunters got all fired up over this opportunity and were rallying to inspire each other to submit comments before the deadline. The unfortunate part of this campaign was that the government said it would provide the public with opportunity to “comment” but it was not “consulting” with the public. In other words, submit whatever comments you want the government was not changing its’ mind. I’ve witnessed hunters put more effort into submitting these after-the-fact comments than when they had the chance to change the outcome of the provincial election which had a party that openly declared they would ban grizzly hunting if elected.
Hunters in BC have not embraced the idea of rallying behind progressive, articulate and educated spokespeople/ambassadors to represent them in the public domain. Hunters continue to argue among themselves, criticize scientists and biologists, attack their peers who are fighting for conservation, argue with anti-hunters and grab the soap box to spray personal opinions as facts. Some hunters were simply too apathetic to do anything at all. Other hunters were getting more fired up over topics like youth, senior and archery hunting seasons, antler restrictions, lengths of hunting seasons or whether hunters can harvest one white-tailed doe than they did on the important issues facing the future of hunting and wildlife conservation in the province. Some vocal hunters took to social media to attack non-hunters in disrespectful debates about the grizzly hunt (and vice versa) and the hunting community as a whole failed to call out their peers for representing them poorly in these debates. On a mass scale, the majority of these outspoken hunters, as macho as they try to present themselves, continue to be scared to meet with their elected officials and tell them how important hunting and conservation is to them. Many of these hunters invested their time into complaining on social media rather than spending that time to write an elected official. Too many hunters feel they are wildlife experts so they try to impose their ideologies about wildlife management on everyone else rather than simply telling elected officials that hunting is important to their way of life and demanding actions to preserve it. The collective voice of hunters talking to elected officials has the power to change policies for the betterment of wildlife and our hunting heritage.
In the entire debate over the grizzly hunt in BC the hunting community failed to articulate the ultimate argument – the argument that explains why they want to hunt grizzly bears. The arguments that hunters tried to use were either not supported by science or policy, contradictory or just plain illogical. It’s interesting that when hunters talk about why they hunt game animals like moose, elk or deer they give all these very personal reasons such as; connecting with Nature, procuring a sustainable source of wild meat, knowing where their food comes from and enjoying outdoor experiences with friends and family. Yet when it came to explaining why they want to hunt grizzly bears many hunters could not articulate their reasons in a similar way. The chance to tell the public powerful personal reasons why they hunt gave way to these “matter-of-fact” un-emotional reasons why grizzly bears must be hunted. Consequently those arguments failed miserably to change people’s perceptions of grizzly hunting.
It’s likely my article will elicit some emotional and defensive responses from some hunters. In their defense, these hunters were not purposely trying to defend the grizzly hunt with flawed arguments. But its unfortunate how many hunters believe these flawed arguments should have changed the outcome of the debate on grizzly hunting. I’m concerned too many hunters are self-centered, out of touch with social trends, too rigid in their opinions, too sensitive to criticism and unwillingly to change for the collective betterment of the future of hunting. I’m equally concerned that too many hunters are conditioned to believe whatever the popular TV hunting hosts espouse and not what the wildlife scientists tell us.
Hunters in BC need to face the reality that the future of hunting in this province will not be saved by the great conservation history or the economic value of hunting in the United States. The situation south of the border has little to no impact on hunting policy and public attitudes towards hunting in Canada. Not all the high profile hunting conservation organizations and celebrity hunters in the US are going to stand up for the future of hunting in BC. British Columbia and Canada do not have a Ryan Zinke championing hunting and conservation at the highest political levels either. That responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of every hunter in the province. The reality is that hunters in BC failed to be proactive and sensitive to a changing society – a society that was giving off signals for the last four decades that it didn’t like the grizzly hunt the way they perceived it. Hunting in BC is going to face more and stronger opposition to many other areas of hunting in the near future. Will hunters approach the next public opposition to hunting the same as it did for the grizzly hunt? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Do hunters really have what it takes to adapt to a modern and changing world? Are hunters so married to their own dogmas that they will not change their ways to preserve the future of hunting? Non-hunters are not asking for a seat at the wildlife management table anymore. They have walked into the meeting room and sat at the table with their “I’m a BC citizen too” card. The public is expecting moral progress in hunting. Are hunters prepared to proactively and respectfully talk to non-hunters to find out where that progress can be made? The grizzly debate is over for now. It’s time to move on, learn and adapt to the lessons this failure has provided.
What shall the collective vision for the future of hunting and wildlife in BC be?
What actions, behaviors and changes are needed to realize this vision?
The Lodgepole Fire in Southeast BC creating some great habitat but it’s about to be carved up by logging roads and clearcuts. Photo by Curtis Hall
Where There’s Smoke…
It’s early September and like most of western North America British Columbia’s wildfires are still raging. Homes are still being threatened. People are still on evacuation alerts. People are still breathing thick smoke-filled air. Some homeowners have not been allowed to return home after being evacuated. There has been no time to assess the effects of the fires on the province’s fish, wildlife or their habitats including our rare and endangered species. Yet today one of British Columbia’s largest forest companies distributed a list covering all the fire areas in the southeastern corner of the province that they plan to salvage timber from. This tidal wave of timber salvaging will start to unfold across the rest of BC shortly as history is repeats itself.
It’s no surprise the lumber giants have moved so fast to get at the burned timber while it’s still warm. BC’s three largest lumber companies have more milling capacity than all sawmills in the United States combined. The majority of all timber harvesting in the province is controlled by only five private lumber companies (Canadian Forest Products -Canfor, West Fraser Timber, International Forest Products, Tolko Industries and Western Forest Products). With sawmills referred to as “Super Mills” a lot of “fibre” is needed to feed the mill’s diets. But with all this lumbering super power small towns across BC are dying as their forest economies dwindle, fish and wildlife populations are collapsing and, in 2017, the management of the public’s natural resources will receive the lowest proportion of the province’s provincial budget in the last half century.
It’s a well-known fact the province’s major forest companies are harvesting timber to the maximum while gradually decreasing investment in BC’s forestry infrastructure and increasing assets and holdings in the US. Getting approval to harvest burned and insect attacked forests at rates that exceed the government approved annual allowable harvest levels has become the norm in BC as the effects of climate change are now a reality. All this does not bode well for the future of the province’s wildlife though.
How Does British Columbia’s Laws Protect the Public’s Wildlife and Habitat?
There are no specifically defined legislated objectives in British Columbia for fish or wildlife populations, their habitats or for measuring biodiversity. There is no legal requirement for the use of peer-reviewed science or scientific panels in forest management in BC. There are no legislated requirements to conduct scientific assessments of the impacts that large-scale proposed timber harvesting might have on the public’s fish, wildlife or habitat like there is in mining and other major development projects in Canada. There is no legal requirement for a forest company to change timber harvesting plans based on public input. Under the current professional reliance model of forest management in BC, professional Foresters employed by the timber companies make a lot of the decisions on how the public’s resources will be treated. Government scientists, Biologists and Foresters have no authority to challenge or override the private companies’ plans to manage the public’s land as long as their timber harvest plans meet the bare minimum requirements of a severely deficient set of forest management laws in the province.
From science we know high road density on the landscape negatively impacts wildlife. Yet there are no laws in BC controlling road density to protect wildlife or habitat. Forest companies have no legal obligation to ensure logged over areas are free of the invasive weeds that choke out wildlife habitat and reduce biodiversity. We know fire improves huckleberry production for grizzly bears yet there are no laws to prevent logging machinery from impacting the re-growth of huckleberry bushes in critical grizzly habitat after a wildfire. There are no regulations that require wildlife forage and browse to be co-managed in concert with trees.
There are no legal mechanisms in BC for individuals or NGO organizations to legally challenge decisions to harvest timber in a given area if wildlife values are not being managed to the satisfaction of the public. The strongest objective set by government for wildlife management in BC is to “conserve sufficient wildlife habitat in terms of amount of area, distribution of areas and attributes of those areas”; however, mitigating impacts of timber harvesting on wildlife or habitat must be “without unduly reducing the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests”. That’s the law in British Columbia. Timber supply trumps wildlife conservation.
Doesn’t BC Practice Sustainable Forest Management?
British Columbia was made famous by the “Bowron Clearcut” when it became one of the few manmade features on Earth that could be seen from space. This clearcut was over 300 square kilometers and was a result of salvage logging that occurred during the 1970’s spruce beetle outbreak. By the year 2020 it is estimated that 20,000 square kilometers of BC’s lodgepole pine forests affected by the mountain pine beetle will be clearcut making it the largest timber salvage logging operation in the world. Moose populations have crashed is many regions of the province as a result of the mountain pine beetle salvage logging that has already been completed. Aerially spraying herbicides to rid plantations of willow and alder continue to impact moose in the habitats where extensive pine beetle salvage logging has taken place.
Prior to the start of the salvage logging of the mountain pine beetle effected forests, an independent group of forest ecologists advised the government that around 75% of the beetle attacked forests had substantial proportions of non-pine tree species that were not affected by the beetle. If these mixed forests were left unlogged they would have maintained timber supply for the next half century and made moose populations less vulnerable to decline. The scientist’s advice was not accepted and almost every hectare of forest with any amount of mountain pine beetle killed timber was clearcut.
Much of the general public and many politicians still believe that wildfires are bad for the environment. Forest companies add spin to these perceptions by using terms like “salvage logging” and “sanitizing the forest”. The term “salvage” only refers to reducing losses of timber and the concept has no ecological context. “Sanitation logging” is a misleading concept because it promotes the idea that a forest ecosystem needs to be cleansed of natural ecological processes like dead and decaying trees. “Catastrophic” fires or insect outbreaks are not catastrophic for forests ecosystems or biodiversity. It’s very unlikely that salvage or sanitation logging has ever helped with the ecological recovery of a burned forest. In fact, researchers at Oregon State University that studied fires that burned in southern Oregon in 2002 reported that salvage logging destroyed about 70 percent of tree seedlings that had sprouted from the forest floor and that the slash and debris left on the ground after salvage logging actually increased the risk of future forest fires.
But Doesn’t Clearcutting a Burned Forest Mimic What Mother Nature Does?
In classical forestry education we are taught that most forests in BC originate from stand replacing fire regimes. The new forests establish over a short period of time and grow into even-aged forests. Clearcutting causes forests to also establish and mature into even aged forests; therefore, the classical forestry theory is that clearcutting mimics or is at least a surrogate for natural stand replacing wildfire. A lot of the latest fire ecology science is suggesting that a lot more of BC’s forests were subject to frequent low intensity fires that thinned the forests and kept fuel loading down while maintaining forest structure, diversity and resilience.
Twenty or 30 years after logging it can be hard to discern if you are in an old cutblock or an old burn; however, I think that’s where the similarity ends. Even with severe crown fires there is still a lot of vertical habitat structure left after the fire is out. To a moose, elk or a deer this dead standing forest still provides the visual hiding cover that allows them to feed and not been seen by predators as easily; therefore, their distribution in and use of burned habitat is not compromised. A moose’s long legs are an adaption to living with deep snow and water but their long legs are also thought by biologists to be an adaptation to living in old burns where the snags that have fallen become crisscrossed and tangled. The ability to live in the tangled old burns may be an adaptation to avoid predators.
The Importance of Fire to Wildlife
It has been hypothesized that the extinction of the Mammoth gave rise to British Columbia’s biodiversity. Mammoths that grazed over vast areas of North America maintained grassland-like habitats across much of the continent. Once they disappeared the grasslands began to grow over with shrubs and birch trees which eventually succeeded to conifer forests. These new vegetation communities gave rise to an era of fire.
Over the last 10,000 years almost every ecosystem in BC evolved with a unique fire regime. A significant proportion of these assemblages of flora and fauna are adapted to fire as either fire resistant or fire dependent species. Fire resistant species either evolved strategies of avoidance or tolerance to fire. Avoidance is when species inhabit or retreat to habitats where the lethal effects of fire cannot affect them. Fire tolerant species have physiological traits that mitigate or tolerate exposure to lethal conditions of fire. Fire dependent species require fire to perpetuate the species – fire is needed for at least one part of their life cycle. Fire intolerant species are sensitive to fire and are destroyed by fire and whose presence may fade from an ecosystem disturbed by fire. Many of BC’s plants and animals are fire dependent.
A fire regime is a combination of the severity of the fire and how often fire occurs. Severity is controlled by the amount and type of combustible vegetation on the landscape and the sensitivity of the living vegetation. How often fire occurs on the landscape is often expressed as measures of a fire return interval or fire frequency which are regulated by how climate and weather interact to create lightning. Science also recognizes the use of fire by the First People’s of North America as contributing to the uniqueness of some the past fire regimes. The other variables that define a fire regime include the pattern, size, continuity and season of burn. All these factors work together to create unique fire regimes across the landscape at different points in time.
Generally low severity – more frequent fires created Fire-Maintained Ecosystems which are characterized by fire that is predominantly non-lethal to most of the vegetation. On the other side, higher severity fires that burn less frequently tend to be lethal to most of the vegetation so they are referred to as Replacing Fires.
High levels of biodiversity are often correlated to mixed–severity fire regimes. Mixed-severity fire regimes are influenced by mixtures of high and low severity fires at varying scales, patterns and timing across the landscape. Mixed-severity fire regimes are dominated by intermediate factors – intermediate fire severities and intermediate fire return intervals (i.e., 30-200years).
Fire mosaic is the pattern and variability of burned and un-burned vegetation across a landscape. Mosaic fire creates diverse patterns of vegetation, edge conditions, open and interior micro climate conditions that provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife species. Ecotone gradients are a pattern of ecological communities where high levels of biodiversity are observed. Ecotone gradients like the grassland-forest interface are known for high value habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife species. Fire plays a role in maintaining ecotone gradients such as the boundary between grasslands and forests where forest encroachment onto grasslands is mitigated by frequent fires.
Fundamentally, fire creates complexity on the landscape which allows for plant diversity. Plant diversity allows for wildlife diversity. Diverse ecosystems are resilient ecosystems. Resilient ecosystems are better capable of resisting or recovering from stresses and disturbances.
Ungulate winter range has always been considered to be the factor limiting ungulate populations in BC. While the limitation is generally correlated to the lesser amount of area available for ungulates to winter on, summer range nutrition is reported to play a very significant role in population dynamics as well. Summer range is a critical time for adult females and new offspring and access to high nutrition food during pre-natal and natal periods is vital for growth and survival.
There are number of reported negative population feedback dynamics attributed to poor summer range nutrition. Low pregnancy rates, low offspring production, poorer female body condition and body mass, low juvenile survival and increased vulnerability to predation and harvest are some of the population dynamics attributed to poor summer range nutrition. It is reported in the scientific literature that fire enhances nutrient cycling, improves the digestibility of forage/browse, increases the crude protein content of forage/browse and increases the long-term biomass production of forage and browse. Fire improves nutrition which leads to sustainable and resilient wildlife populations. In BC you can’t have robust wildlife populations without fire. One study in northern BC reported that Stone’s Sheep that have access to significant portions of burned habitat had higher lamb to ewe ratios and lower incidence of lungworm than herds that did not have access to burned habitat.
In 2003, the Okanagan Mountain Park fire in burned approximately 25,000 ha of dry forest habitat south of the City of Kelowna. 10 years prior to the fire the Mountain Goats in Okanagan Mountain Park numbered around 8 animals. 10 years after the fire they had increased to 85 animals (962% increase). This increase is directly attributed to improved population dynamics resulting from habitat enhancement caused by the fire. In game management units MU 8-9 and 8-10 the hunter harvest of mule deer and elk increased 32% and 144% respectively in the decade following the fire. This increase in harvest occurred with about a 15% decrease in the number of hunters and 15% decrease in the number of hunter days in those management units. There was no inventory data before and after the fire so directly correlating increases in hunter harvest to increases in population size is not possible with a high degree of confidence; however, an increase in abundance due to the fire can’t be discounted either. Prior to the fire there were no mountain sheep in the area. Between 2007 and 2009 around 53 sheep were transplanted to the burned habitat and over the next 6 years the herd size increased by 14%. It is likely the favorable habitat and forage value created by the fire acted positively on mountain sheep population dynamics.
Huckleberries are fire tolerant and fire creates the conditions for huckleberry plants to thrive, expand and persist on the landscape. Since the early 1900s the Flathead grizzly bear population management unit (GPMU) in southeastern BC has had the shortest fire return intervals (most frequent fire) and the highest percentage of the land base burned by fire on an annual basis. Because of the fire regime in the Flathead and abundance of huckleberry plants, huckleberry production is a strong bottom up regulating factor for grizzly bears in the Flathead.
Populations of woodpeckers including the black-backed woodpecker depend on having significant areas of standing burned snag forests. The literature suggests this woodpecker species may be declining in BC, although trend data are difficult to interpret due to the low sample sizes. Fire suppression and post-fire salvage logging have negative implications for the species yet BC has not identified this woodpecker as a species of concern to be considered in how much of a burned forest should be logged. However, over the next few years in the United States, the potential listing of the black-backed woodpecker may lead to federal legal challenges when lumber companies plan to clearcut forests burned by wildfires.
Dr. Chad T. Hanson and his group, the John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, Calif., calls any burned forest where the trees have been left alone a “snag forest”. Dr. Hanson has pressed the argument over the past decade that snag forests are among the most important plant and animal habitats in North America. Dr. Hanson has made himself a thorn in the side of state and federal agencies in the US, pestering and sometimes suing them. But gradually, policy makers have begun to acknowledge that burned forests must be viewed as special places.
The Time to Act is Now
Currently there is an outbreak of the spruce bark beetle in BC covering an estimated 1600 square kilometers. To date in the summer of 2017, wildfires have burned 12,000 square kilometers of the province. There is a gold rush about to take place in the province and the gold is black charred timber some of which is critical to leave untouched for the benefit of wildlife and biodiversity conservation. Under the current forest management system in BC there will be no involvement of scientists and no meaningful opportunity for the public to influence what happens to their fish, wildlife and habitat unless there is significant opposition unleashed by the public and First Nations that forces a change in direction from the new government.
If you care enough to change the way fish, wildlife and habitat will be treated after the 2017 fire season is over you must act now. Demand that your government mandate a new and better approach to protecting fish, wildlife, habitat and biodiversity values in the forests that were burned this summer. Tell elected officials that the business-as-usual approach to forest management in BC will not be acceptable to plan harvesting in fire affected wildlife habitats.
You must demand that your fish, wildlife and habitat values be assessed at a landscape-scale using a roundtable approach that includes scientists, biologists, ecologists, First Nations, hunters, anglers, trappers, guide-outfitters and conservationists.
The future of your (burned) public land is in your hands. Contact your elected official today.
Why Do Men Trophy Hunt?
Is a prestigious University in British Columbia promoting hatred towards hunters?
Hatred in the World Today
Hatred and racial tension are escalating in the United States and Canada almost on a daily basis. A tragic example of the consequences of this tension occurred on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia when the hatred boiled over and a peaceful counter protester was murdered at a white supremacist rally.
Every hunter is aware of the boldness of the social media attacks being waged against hunters. We have all seen social hate campaigns unleashed against individuals in the Cecil the Lion controversy and the Namibia Black Rhino conservation hunt. Death threats and targeted hate campaigns are directed daily against public hunting figures as well as the average hunter including many of our youth.
Some anti-hunting websites, social media sites and organizations endorse harassment of hunters and even go so far as tolerating people who advocate murdering or torturing hunters, guides and politicians. In July 2017, it was reported that animal rights activists who stalked and harassed the popular Spanish hunter Melania Capitan may have played a role in her suicide.
Not in Your Backyard
These news stories of hatred all seem so far away from hunting in the quiet backcountry of British Columbia. But they are not that far away. Hatred against hunters is being promoted by one of the province’s most prestigious Universities right under your nose. In April of this year, I read an article that the University of Victoria posted titled: Why Men Trophy Hunt: ‘Showing off’ and the psychology of shame. It was co-written by a faculty professor at the University. After reading it I sent the following letter to the Chair responsible for the professor’s conduct. In it I said:
April 12, 2017
Johannes Feddema Professor and Chair Department of Geography University Victoria Victoria, BC, Canada
Under Canada’s Human Rights Act of 1977 and BC Bill 14 harassment is considered a form of discrimination involving unwanted offensive or humiliating behavior. Bullying is a type of harassment which can take the form of either verbal attack with words or in the case of cyber-bullying, using electronic or social media to threaten, embarrass, intimidate, exclude or damage a reputation. By law, employers are obligated to ensure employees are not engaging in acts of harassment and that employees are not being harassed by clients or customers. Shaming is a form of harassment and there have been very tragic cases of people committing suicide after been publically shamed on social media. The literature also contains studies documenting the severe consequences that shaming and the feeling of shame can have on people.
UVic hosted a lecture today titled: Preventing Harassment: Victim, Bystander and Activist. I presume the lecture was an educational opportunity to talk about the dangers of harassment. On April 7th the University posted a publication by Chris Darimont, Hakai-Raincoast professor of geography at the University of Victoria in which Mr. Darimont advocated for the use of public shaming. Mr. Darimont states:
“What this theory suggests is that widespread shaming— similar to the Cecil the lion incident in 2015, which drew worldwide condemnation— might influence the future of trophy hunting. Shaming tends to erode status.”
As a citizen of the province, I want to raise this matter with you. One of your academics is advocating harassment of licensed hunters rather than condemning the behavior. In B.C., a 10 year old youth can legally hunt when accompanied by a licensed adult hunter. Women make up the fastest growing demographic of hunters in North America and many first generation hunters of various ethnic backgrounds are taking up hunting in B.C. I am deeply disturbed that Mr. Darimont, using his position at the University, would endorse, advocate or even slightly suggest in an indirect way that people should be shaming anyone for the sake of a difference in personal values regarding hunting.
In various social media sites dedicated to stopping hunting in B.C. I am witnessing the progression of social media shaming from that of verbal assaults, threats of violence and even desire to commit murder. Currently in B.C. there are professional wildlife biologists involved in management activities including the wolf cull in the endangered caribou recovery zones who have to operate in complete secrecy because their lives have been threatened by activists. I’m not suggesting Mr. Darimont has anything to do with those incidents but they are examples of the seriousness of what Mr. Darimont’s behavior can and has led to in the province.
While this matter does not involve harassment in the workplace per se, harassment of a UVic employee or harassment against me personally I am proposing that an academic and an academic institution are expected to treat the rest of society with the same values it espouses in its human resource policies and that it follow the principles of the reasonable person standard.
Please consider this letter a formal complaint against Mr. Darimont in his capacity as a professor at the university for publishing statements that endorse public shaming and harassment of law abiding citizens. I urge you to investigate the matter and try to find an acceptable solution to Mr. Darimont’s public behavior.
Time to Take a Stand Against Hatred
On behalf of all hunters in the province I attempted to raise this issue with the University in a professional, quiet and respectful manner. Over the last 5 months, there was never any action taken to remove the article from the University website and there was never any follow up to my letter. The University must simply agree that shaming hunters is an acceptable action to promote to students attending the University.
Universities in British Columbia are public institutions. If having one of your publicly funded institutions promote hatred against yourself or your kids because you/they are hunters is unacceptable to you then you must take action to stand up for your rights. You do have the right to be free of discrimination in Canada.
Join me in standing up for our rights, as hunter conservationists in the province of British Columbia, by sending a personal email to the Honourable Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skill and Training.
Please keep your message respectful and maintain dignity expected of a hunter conservationist. The Minister will know nothing of this issue and you will simply be helping inform her of it and to convey your expectations of how a public university in BC should behave. My recommendations are that you, in your own words, tell Minister Mark that:
- You are citizen of the province who is a lawful hunter.
- Hunting is a way of life for yourself and a means to provide sustenance for your family.
- You object to a public institution endorsing hatred against hunters.
- She request that the University of Victoria remove the article that promotes hatred towards hunters.
- The University issue a public apology to all hunters of the province
This issue of hatred against hunters might seem far from the conservation priorities hunters should be focused on. You might be asking why I have written an article about this topic then. It’s because I believe that the issue of hatred against hunters has everything to do with conservation. Wildlife conservation is complex and the threats facing wildlife are pushing us further down the path of being an unsustainable society. Sustainable wildlife management needs public policy supported by science. Science needs adequate funding and conservation needs people to care about what’s happening to their land. However, without everyone in society acting with respect for one another there will be no conservation and there will be no good outcomes for wildlife.
As hunters we tend to tolerate the social media hatred knowing that the keyboard warriors behind it are cowards and do nothing meaningful for wildlife or conservation. We know that hunter conservationists willingly carry the freight in paying for conservation across North America for the benefit of all citizens whether they hunt or not. True hunter conservationists can accept disagreements and controversy surrounding hunting in modern society because we recognize people’s differences stem from different personal worldviews and philosophies.
But we must not tolerate it when our public institutions and academic scientists turn to promoting hatred against any group – hunters or not. Hatred is not the British Columbia way and it’s not the Canadian way.
Make your voice be heard.
Write Honourable Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skill and Training.