My interest in conservation is deeply connected with ideas of feminism, anti-racism, decolonization, and human rights. As a teenager growing up in the suburbs, I was strongly influenced by local punk rock music culture. The punk scene is known for its association with social and political movements and creating a sense of inclusivity and equality. The band Closet Monster described the punk scene as “a self-sufficient subculture, a home away from hell”. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate the very real and important relationship between conservation, culture, and politics, and the association in my own head between conservation and punk rock doesn’t seem entirely out of tune. At the time, I was simply angsty and fired up to get involved in social movements dedicated to progressive and positive change. 

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When the naturalist and ornithologist George Ord formally named pronghorn in 1815, he was unsure whether the species was an antelope or a goat. In the journals of their famous expedition from 1804-1806, Lewis and Clark made over 200 references to what they described as “wild goats or antelopes”. Pronghorns are also featured in the petroglyphs and pictographs of Indigenous nations throughout the continent. Over the years, and perhaps serving as a measure of the cultural importance and sense of mystery they inspire in humans, pronghorn have acquired a number of nicknames, from the more colloquial speed goat to the poetically ethereal imagery of the prairie ghost. As it turned out, George Ord would compromise and give the species a scientific name that split the difference between his uncertainty, Antilocapra americana, or “American antelope goat”. 

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On a recent visit with my 90-year-old grandfather, he told me that he receives two newspapers to the house daily. The first, because the contrast of the type is easier for his failing vision. The second has an extensive obituary section and he doesn’t want to miss the death of any of his friends and the opportunity to say his farewells. 

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It has always been the case that explorers, wanderers, hunters, and conservationists have recorded and later told stories of their experiences in the natural world. As varied in their voices as the environments that inspired them, our bookshelves should be overflowing with their tales and thoughts. As Steven Rinella says in Meat Eater, “hunting stories are the oldest and most widespread form of story on earth.” The knowledge these writers have to share will make us more effective hunter-conservationists. 

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At one point in this continent’s history, we had no legal mechanisms for wildlife management and conservation. At one point, unregulated hunting and development had reduced this continent’s waterfowl populations to terrifyingly low numbers. We almost lost the wood duck, Canada geese were in danger, trumpeter swans had declined significantly, and habitat was being lost at dramatic rates. Then in 1916, North Americans made a statement about the present and future value of migratory birds and passed the Migratory Bird Treaty. Hunters and conservationists supported the treaty. In 1937, Ducks Unlimited was started with the goal of conserving waterfowl habitat. Hunters and conservationists were early supporters of their efforts. These events, one in the middle of World War I and the other the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, were successful because hunters and conservationists prioritized wildlife and habitat above everything else. 

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There is no question that two centuries of rapid expansion of human settlement and industrial development on this continent have been tough on grizzly bears. They continue to face declining habitat and the impacts of policy decisions that are polluted by human interest and partisan priorities. The British Columbia government made two announcements in 2017 concerning grizzly bear management in the province. In August 2017, the B.C. government announced that it would be ending the trophy hunt for grizzly bears. Following a public engagement process throughout the fall, the government announced that following the 2017 hunting season, it was ending all grizzly bear hunting in the province. There is an interesting discussion surrounding British Columbia’s decision and it is certainly connected to the larger context of the ecology and politics of grizzly bears throughout the Rocky Mountains (see the recent case of grizzly bear delisting in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the responses in favour and opposition). 

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I began discussing the topic of trophy hunting in my last post, In Search of Trophies. The foundation of the post was that the social debates around trophy hunting are often structured around, and derailed by, two false distinctions. In the first post, I talked about a false distinction between two groups of hunters: trophy hunters and non-trophy hunters. 

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In a sense, each and every one of us is a trophy hunter. In two ways, actually.

I have somewhat deliberately avoided this topic. For one, I didn’t want to belabour the debate about trophy hunting. For another, while often presented as straight-forward and simple, the nuances of trophy hunting become quite complex, so it takes a deliberate open-mindedness to discuss it. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen that openness in much of the trophy hunting conversations. The concept and practices of trophy hunting are troublesome, murky, and highly emotive, and this is exactly why it is worth discussing. 

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I don’t recall when I first heard someone use the term fair chase. I do recall becoming gradually aware of a set of thoughts, feelings, and ideals regarding different aspects of hunting that I would later come to identify as a developing understanding of what is collectively referred to as fair chase. Fair chase is a concept that is somewhat popularly understood as the moral foundation of our community; however, while many of us are familiar with the feeling of fair chase and most of us can point out actions that we feel fall outside what would be considered fair chase, it is an idea that is difficult to put our finger on and clearly define what it means in practice.

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I understand some people’s general disdain for list posts: “7 ways to…”, “10 reasons why…” I capitulated for this post, but it is at once a plea for others to get involved in conservation and some suggestions for easy ways to start. As a hunter, issues around conservation are always on my mind and I find myself constantly worried that I’m not doing quite enough. I also often think about how to talk about conservation with people who may not think about and prioritize it as I do. Part of striving to be a good conservationist often involves some element of advocacy, the effort to convince others that they should care and the attempt to recruit people into this conservation task. To do so effectively, we need to be able to provide the public with accessible ways to join the conversation that fit their lifestyles and abilities.

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