black bear in the forest

In March 2022, I sat down with Wendy Keefover of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to chat about a petition the HSUS submitted to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The petition requested that the California Fish and Game Commission suspend the black bear hunt in the state. I wanted to chat with Wendy about what the HSUS hoped to achieve in California related to black bear hunting and management.

We live in a time right now where we feel increasingly pressured to dislike entire groups of people based on our ideological and political leanings. But hunting and conservation issues always exist at the intersection of society and ecology. We need dialogue with multiple groups of people to make progress on the complex conservation issues we face. Wendy and I had a productive discussion that revealed a mutual interest in surmounting the climate of polarization to have these discussions. I hope it also illuminates for the hunting community a part of the perspective of organizations we sometimes find ourselves at odds with in decision-making about conservation issues.

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There is a saying that the only things we all have in common are birth, death, and taxes. If there is a fourth thing common to every human being on the planet, it is that human lives depend on killing animals. This is true for hunters, trappers, animal-rights activists, vegans, and everyone else, regardless of where we live, our cultural differences, or our lifestyle choices. I don’t say this out of callousness or for shock value; rather, to put every one of us on the same page, in the same common history book of our species. If only for a moment.

I would like to think we can all have the humility and honesty to acknowledge the fact that human life depends on the death of animals, despite how uncomfortable we may be with this truth. To that end, I won’t spend time going over the various ways that human civilizations and settlements displace wildlife and affect habitat. Many of us do our best to reduce our direct and indirect impacts on the natural world, but close as they may come, these impacts will never reach zero. None of us is exempt from the effects of human civilization on wildlife. The task as I see it is not so much to accept or refute this fact, but rather to reflect on our own understandings of it and what it means to have a relationship with animals that involves death.

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For many of us, the months spent in between hunting seasons are filled primarily with two things: preparation for the next season and telling stories about past seasons. Story-telling forges bonds and shares learning, and it’s probably one of the most important social spaces of creative and intellectual exploration for hunters.

I imagine that story-telling has always been an inseparable part of hunting. From cave paintings to social media, it’s likely difficult to overstate the role that story-telling has played in the history of human hunting culture. Hunting is simultaneously solitary and social; philosophical and biological; physical and intellectual; scientific and emotional. I think story-telling plays an important role in shaping and conveying who we are as hunters and allows us to explore and refine who we want to be as hunters.

But what do the words we use to construct our stories reveal about who we are and how we see the world?

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Bear hunting is complex for reasons that span the full spectrum of the personal and the political. These complexities entangle with each other until they become somewhat inseparable, with bear hunting coming to represent a potently symbolic place in the cultural imagination of the public and a tangible place in the diets and lives of many hunters. I think this sense of complexity is one of the reasons I love bear hunting; it asks me to engage with all the reasons hunting is important to me and, I believe, encapsulates why hunting as an idea and a practice remains a powerful part of our cultures and our humanity. For these reasons, when I have space to talk about bear hunting, I see it as a full package of the personal and political. Rather than shy away from this complexity or compartmentalize bear hunting to remove the sticky and unanswerable aspects of it, I am interested in representing it in a way that speaks to both hunters and non-hunters.

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One of my favourite conservation stories happened the day of the Wall Street Crash on October 29, 1929. That afternoon, Rosalie Edge stood up at the annual meeting of the National Association of Audubon Societies. She called out the room of directors and employees for staying silent on the ongoing overhunting of birds of prey, and challenged them to show the courage to stand up against powerful gun and hunting groups. Edge shook up the entire conservation world and became one of the most influential conservationists in North America. But Rosalie Edge didn’t only focus her activism on protecting birds. She was also involved in the suffragist movement in the United States, contributing to the passing of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote in 1920.

Rosalie Edge shows us that conservation and social justice issues have always been intertwined. The history of the conservation movement is a history of activism, dissent, and individuals standing up to power. Compartmentalizing efforts to fight for biodiversity and efforts to fight for justice might make it easier to focus on discreet conservation issues that fit our individual priorities, but it is a convenience we can not afford if we are serious about caring about the future of wildlife. It is also a form of conservation I am not interested in.

As I look to some of the things I want to think and talk about in 2023, I felt this was an important post to start the year. A way to set the tone and backdrop.

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brown bear

Conservation is complex. The current conservation issues we face are layered and interactive. The people affected by conservation issues are complex; they are motivated by a range of values and bring diverse knowledge and perspectives to the issues. The ways in which we produce knowledge, make decisions, and take action on important conservation issues must be similarly complex. As conservationists, we need to consider the full range of knowledge available to us to understand and address the increasingly complex issues facing our ecosystems and communities and challenge the notion that Western science offers a panacea to the conservation challenges we must deal with.

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In 2015, I was in Kugaaruk, Nunavut interviewing hunters for my graduate research. We were talking about ringed seal and polar bear ecology and the environmental changes hunters had noticed over the years, including changes to sea ice, climate, and wildlife. We were also running a harvest-based seal sampling program in which hunters took measurements and submitted samples of seals that would be used to understand seal health and learn about the food web. As I spent time learning about the lives of ringed seals, their habitat, diet, behavior, and their importance to communities across the Arctic, I immersed myself in every aspect of seal cultural and environmental history and hunting and cooking techniques. I became obsessed with their biology and ecology. I developed a passionate concern for their conservation, advocating for social-political actions that support seal hunting movements and the use of seal fur products.

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The world needs “ambitious, systemic and sustained efforts to address the full range of direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity change.” We are well into a sixth mass extinction, with untold numbers of species each year permanently leaving the planet in what environmental historian and author Bathsheba Demuth poignantly refers to as “quiet, unsung extinctions.”

A new report by an expert panel of more than 50 researchers from 23 countries examined current global biodiversity conservation efforts and concludes that they will be insufficient to prevent continued mass extinctions by mid-century.

The report looked at the most recent round of biodiversity protection goals established by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Canada signed the CBD in 1992; the United States is still not a signatory.

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It is spring wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) season throughout much of Canada and the United States. Hunters throughout the continent live for this time of year, with its sunrise glows, dewy morning fields, fragrant sunny days, and forests screaming with the gobbles of male turkeys.

Some recent research has given us more insight into turkey habitat preferences, use, and what we might expect for the future of wild turkey range in the context of climate change and land management. In particular, I want to review three studies that together help us piece together wild turkey habitat use from localized to regional to population scales. They also tell us about how prescribed burns, land use, and climate change impacts wild turkey habitat selection.

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brown moose

A British Columbia Supreme Court ruling in June 2021 (Yahey v British Columbia) found the B.C. government had breached its Treaty responsibilities to Blueberry River First Nations by allowing resource extraction and other development on their territory that caused ongoing cumulative impacts affecting their Treaty rights.

It was a landmark ruling. It was the first time a court ruled that treaty rights had been breached due to the cumulative impacts of developments. Recently, the B.C. government proposed substantial reductions to hunting in the province, saying that the changes will work towards addressing its Treaty violations.

But was hunting ever an issue?

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