British Columbia is currently experiencing political turmoil. It is a time of social/cultural transition and an opportunity to do things differently, rather than revert to patterns of the past. For the past 16 years, wildlife protection has been systematically eroded through underfunding, staff cuts and lack of long-term vision. It is a history replete with reactionary response to crises, such as the mass killing of wolves to supposedly stem the decline of Mountain Cariboo. The BC Wildlife Federation/Liberal government has a plan to establish an external agency to “manage” wildlife, initally funded with a $5 million government grant and subsequently supported by $9-10 million annually from hunting permits, with the possibility of private sector donations; this is not a visionary move. A further $200,000 has been allocated for consultation with other groups with an interest in wildlife, after the fact and with an end goal (the external agency) already in mind. It is a repeat pattern of plucking some species from their home communities, for the benefit of other species that are more valued by a small but aggressive hunter lobby group.
We can wake up and embrace a bigger view of ecosystem health or we can go back to sleep and repeat patterns of the past. In their paper, Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaeufer say it best:
A disruptive change affects not only our outer world, but also our inner self. Such moments bring our world to a sudden stop. They may be terrifying, but they also constitute a great blank space that can be filled in one of two ways: by freezing and reverting to the patterns of the past, or by opening us up to the highest future possibilities.
Ecological science has grown exponentially over the past 16 years. Much has been learned by conservation scientists about how ecosystems function and, for example, about the role of large predator species. Former MLA Bill Bennett and his partners may believe that wolves and grizzlies need to be eliminated, without hindrance from politics and the precautionary principle, but this sentiment is a throw-back to a by-gone era. It simply doesn’t mesh with what is known about the role of predators in an ecosystem. Eliminating key predators such as wolves and grizzlies, for instance, has a cascading, negative effect on an ecosystem. It is ecological roulette of the worst kind.
Elements of an ecosystem co-evolve in relationship to one another and are comprised of more than predators and game animals. Ecosystems rely on plants, trees, birds, insects and all other interacting species – including human beings. The government of British Columbia states that Everything in an ecosystem is connected to everything else. Government must be held to account for that recognition. Wildlife and ecosystem stewardship must not be removed, in part or whole, to an outside private agency.
THE STUMBLING BLOCK
Questions of ecosystem stewardship raise certain bigger questions too, such as What is our relationship to other species? … and … What is our responsibility to other species? How we answer these questions depends entirely on our values and perceptions about where human beings belong in an ecological sense. These questions can be viewed from an ecocentric perspective, in which all lifeforms and ecosystems have value in and of themselves alone; or they may be seen from an anthropocentric worldview, which values other lifeforms and ecosystems only insofar as they have value to human well-being, preferences and interests.
In their paper titled Why ecocentrism is the key pathway to sustainability, Washington et al point out:
There is a mixed history of support for ecocentrism (and the intrinsic value of nature). This likely reflects the problem of the dominance of an anthropocentric approach in government thinking and, indeed, the anthropocentrism prevalent among the world’s religious traditions. ~Washington et al 2017 ~
An anthropocentric model assumes that human beings sit on top of a hierarchy, with all else arranged below, in order of importance commodified by humans. It continues to be a dominant paradigm in society, in spite of the fact that it is causing massive biodiversity loss, bringing about the sixth extinction. This model of human domination is having such an impact on all Earth systems that the era is now termed the Anthropocene. We simply cannot continue to do things the same way and expect a different result!
An ecocentric worldview holds the most promising vision for broad stewardship of ecosystem health in the coming years. It is a long-term vision that government could adopt in consideration of the unpredictable, yet altogether fascinating, ways that human and nonhuman species co-evolve in relation to one another.
THE OPPORTUNITY BEFORE US
Other species literally are our cousins and relatives (close and distant) – a biological kinship that many have recognized as conferring moral responsibilities towards all species. So does the recognition that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature; this erodes notions of human supremacy. ~ Washington et al 2017~
Social and environmental scientists lead the way by studying systems that link people and nature, known as social–ecological systems. These systems are highly complex and adaptive; they cannot be understood in fragmented or isolated compartments, such as an independent wildlife agency would provide. Modeling for social-ecological systems needs to be flexible, dynamic, ongoing in real time, keenly observant and fluid to capture the complexities, uncertainty and surprise inherent in the dynamics of living systems.
What, then, is a response to wildlife and ecosystem health that builds on contemporary ecological science, that addresses rapid, uncertain change, in an era dominated by human influence? The answer is: only stewardship processes that are themselves alive and adaptive, just like natural systems are alive and adaptive.
Any monies secured for a consultation process on wildlife and ecosystem health must consider the diverse world views being brought to bear; ecocentric or anthropocentric? Will we continue to approach wildlife from an anthropocentric set of assumptions, in which species are treated separately, or will we take the time to investigate an ecocentric lens and transition to a broad ecological view that recognizes the interactive nature of ecosystem evolution?
A letter signed by 23 groups and businesses, denouncing the plan for an external wildlife agency, is here. The signatories provide compelling reasons why such an agency is a dangerous plan that can easily be dominated by special interest (hunting) groups.
A review process that can be implemented within government ministries is offered by BC Nature (The Federation of BC Naturalists) here.
The online hub called The Local Environmental Observer Network is an exciting initiative that could be set up in communities all around B.C. to give on-the-ground, real-time observations of ecosystem change, with participation from a wide array of community participants. The approach has rich possibilities for B.C.