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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This article originally appear in Issue 1 of the Hunt To Eat Magazine, released in Winter 2022.

All photography by Kristeen McTavish.

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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an eagle flying in the sky

Scientific consensus continues overwhelmingly conclude that lead contamination negatively impacts wildlife, the environment, and human health. In many cases, the primary source of lead contamination is from ammunition.

Rachel Carson drew the world’s attention to the environmental and human health impacts of the widespread use of the pesticide DDT throughout the first half of the 20th century in her ground-breaking book Silent Spring, published in 1962.

One of the wildlife species impacted by DDT was the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). By 1963, there were only 417 known nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 States. Bald eagles were part of what author Michelle Nijhuis calls the “class of 1967” in her book Beloved Beasts, when they were part of the first group of species protected by the precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967. They were later protected by the Endangered Species Act when it came into force in 1973. But not everyone wanted eagles protected. As with many misguided and narrow-minded views on predators, many hunting and sporting groups not only opposed eagle conservation in the mid-1900s, but actively shot eagles and encouraged people to hunt them for no other reason than as part of wider efforts at the time to eliminate predators.

But conservation prevailed.

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selective focus photo of bison

Bison constitutes two subspecies: wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) and plains bison (Bison bison bison). For simplicity, I’ve treated North American bison conservation efforts as one thread; however, the biology and politics of protecting the two subspecies was much more complex than I summarize here.

In fact, governments, biologists, and conservationists struggled with maintaining the genetic purity of different subspecies and herds. According to a 2016 paper titled “Genetic analyses of wild bison in Alberta, Canada: implications for recovery and disease management” published in the Journal of Mammalogy, there is “acceptance that for bison living within Wood Buffalo National Park and Elk Island National Park, there are no ‘genetically pure’ wood bison and that all individuals tested from these areas fall into a spectrum of genetic admixture between wood and plains bison.” To put the numbers in context, Alberta’s Elk Island National Park has the most genetically pure herd of wood bison, numbering about 300 animals.

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This post is essentially an unedited transcript of my discussion from Episode 13 – Enhancing the Social License to Hunt of the Hunt To Eat Show covering recent initiatives to suspend black bear hunting in California.

California has had a busy year with bear hunting. In February 2021, State Senator Scott Wiener proposed Senate Bill 252 (SB-252), which was sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), to end black bear hunting in California. One of the things that the HSUS and Senator Wiener used in 2021 was to cite a declining interest in bear hunting in California. They said that many hunters and Californians aren’t interested in, and don’t support, bear hunting anymore. Senator Wiener eventually withdrew SB-252, in part due to substantial vocal opposition from hunters. There was a petition that collected over 27,000 signatures and we made our collective position known that bear hunting is still an active and important activity in California.

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We have been here before. We have debated predator issues in North America for more than a century. North American wildlife managers, policy-makers, and hunters spent decades engaged in coordinated efforts to demonize and exterminate predators from the landscape. Wild canids received the bulk of anti-predator sentiment and efforts throughout the 20th century. Fueled by flawed science and self-serving economic interests, governments hired hunters, used bounties, killing contests, and a wide range of chemical agents in attempts to eliminate all wolves and coyotes from the landscape. The suite of anti-predator ideologies, policies, and behaviours were unethical and ineffective in the past and they are detrimental to hunting now.

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