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 with Rob Miskosky

Social Licence to Hunt and Misplaced Conservation

The BC Wildlife Federation and the Wild Sheep Society of BC have had enough. The two hunting organizations have organized a campaign to “remind the province of the importance of managing wildlife using science, rather than emotion.”

According to Steve Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the Wild Sheep Society of BC, “It’s not about hunting, it’s about sound wildlife management and we wanted them to know that there are people out there that care about it being managed properly.”

The two groups have sent more than 50,000 letters to BC Premier John Horgan and Katrine Conroy, BC’s Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development.

Back in 2017, the BC Government ended the grizzly bear hunt there to appease an anti-hunting crowd, stating, “Through consultations this past fall, we have listened to what British Columbians have to say on this issue and it is abundantly clear that the grizzly hunt is not in line with their values.”

Clearly, the hunt was cancelled based on emotion, not science. Still, the anti-hunting crowd wants more and continues to get louder and louder. In fact, in BC, there’s movement afoot to have all predator hunting brought to an end.

Written on the Wild Sheep Society of BC’s website: “Thinly veiled under the guise of conservation, a concerted attack is now in place against ‘large carnivores’—specifically named are black bears, cougars, wolves and elk, as they are mentioned as ‘trophy hunted only’.

“Noted in this same push by anti-hunting groups are bighorn sheep, part of our very lifeblood as an organization. We know firsthand that these sheep are so much more than the ‘trophy’ as claimed—that they are an icon of the hills that we care so passionately about. And that through our annual sheep counts as volunteers, know that there are no dangers of extirpation.

“The grizzly bear hunt was just the tip of the iceberg, and this must be our hill to die on. They will come for more. It is not hard to see when you read between the lines that they want a complete removal of hunting as a whole.”

Chris Darimont, science director at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and a professor at the University of Victoria, co-authored a study titled, “Large carnivore hunting and the social licence to hunt.” The study “summarized cases related to the killing of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), wolves (Canis lupus), and other large carnivores in Canada, the United States, and Europe to illustrate how opposition to large carnivore hunting, now expressed primarily on social media, can exert rapid and significant pressure on policy makers and politicians.”

According to Darimont, a hunter himself, the public has little support for the hunting of large predators. They (the public) consider predator hunting cruel, wasteful, and unnecessary.

In the study, Darimont and his team write, “The erosion of the SLH (social licence to hunt) for one type of hunting may affect another. Indeed, some hunters may be concerned that opposition to large carnivore hunting could lead to the eventual ban of more popular and socially accepted food hunting.”

Darimont’s study suggests that “support for hunting large carnivores may be tenuous even among hunters; those who subscribe to the North American model of conservation (a hunting-centric model) may acknowledge that killing large carnivores for trophies (and not food) contravenes one of the model’s central tenets—that wildlife may only be killed for legitimate, nonfrivolous purposes.”

However, the BC Wildlife Federation disagrees with Darimont, writing, “The paper infers hunters kill carnivores such as black bears for trophies and that only a minority hunt carnivores. A literature review related to hunters’ motivations and licence sales in B.C. demonstrates this claim is unsupported by available evidence.

“Given the province’s record low moose and endangered caribou populations, the harvest and intensity of managing carnivores will have to increase. With a landscape heavily marginalized by industrial extraction and urbanization, we will face the choice to either manage wildlife, including carnivores, through science-based management and traditional knowledge, or have prey species continue to decline and, in the case of caribou, go extinct.”

A recent paper by a team of scientists and led by Adam T. Ford titled, “Understanding and avoiding misplaced efforts in conservation” offers, “Conservation relies on cooperation among different interest groups and appropriate use of evidence to make decisions that benefit people and biodiversity. However, misplaced conservation occurs when cooperation and evidence are impeded by polarization and misinformation.”

Clearly, making change based on emotion—not science—is “misplaced conservation”.

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