Opposing experts agree on biggest threats, most side against trophy hunting
Living in a place lauded for its natural beauty and vast wildlife, British Columbians take great pride in their great outdoors. So when it comes to protecting and preserving the wild animals that live in B.C., passions can leave people divided.
Take the debate over the cull of wolves – conservationists argue killing wolves helps preserve moose populations, supporting the sustainable killing of wildlife as a tool that promotes biodiversity. Animal welfare scientists rail against this position, focusing instead on the suffering of individual animals and the method of killing.
But the debate over the human threat to wildlife doesn’t have to be polarizing, suggests new research from the University of British Columbia.
Using an anonymous online survey, more than 350 B.C. residents – including government officials, biologists, conservationists, animal welfare scientists and the general public – were asked to rate the level of harm caused by a variety of human activities that impact wildlife.
The results surprised Sara Dubois, who conducted the survey as part of her doctoral studies in UBC’s animal welfare program.
“Both sets of experts, conservationists and animal welfare scientists, along with the public, agreed independently that the biggest harms to wildlife are development, pollution, and agriculture,” she says. “There is agreement that the bigger picture stuff – habitat loss, pollution – is hurting wildlife more than hunting or vehicle collisions.”
Dubois says the results show the potential for common ground to be reached between the experts, who are often pitted against one another.
She notes her research will help her in her job as manager of wildlife services for the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) where she often has to negotiate between the two sides, and where co-operation can prove challenging.
One issue that has many conservationists and animal welfare scientists on the same page is trophy hunting, which gained attention earlier this year after NHL player Clayton Stoner was photographed holding the head and paws of a grizzly bear he shot and killed along B.C.’s central coast.
Dubois’ survey confirms the provincial government is out of sync with public opinion – the majority of people do not support trophy hunting, which remains legal in B.C.
“The reason why trophy hunting persists is because stakeholders apply pressure to the government,” she says. “Allowing non-resident hunters to come into B.C. is big business.”
Recent figures estimate hunting in B.C. accounts for roughly $350 million a year in tourism revenue.
Interestingly, the public’s main concern isn’t even the killing of animals, but how and why they’re killed, says Dubois, who adds there’s a clear difference in reaction to those who hunt for food for their families and those who hunt for the thrill of it.
Dubois believes a review of wildlife management techniques and public engagement strategies by the province is needed to ensure public views are represented in policy decisions, especially when it comes to hunting and trapping in B.C.
“It’s our tax dollars that fund the management of wildlife,” she says. “The government should be willing to listen and act when we say we want things done humanely and fairly.”