Carnivore conservation is complex and challenging, to say the least. Sometimes, it’s outright contentious. Among the most valuable lessons I have learned, is that people and their perspectives matter—a lot. For me, applying this knowledge, in practice, is a work in progress. I aspire to listen more; herein lies a key to collaboratively finding acceptable alternatives for moving forward in carnivore conservation. We can also learn a lot by looking back.
Let’s Take a Peek at a Random Point in Time, 99 Years Ago
In November 1915, just over a year after Canada declared war on Germany (the First World War), the Commission of Conservation Canada sat down to discuss the state and fate of big game species of the Canadian Rockies. Eighty-one years later, in 1996, I discovered a worn, royal blue book sitting on a library shelf at Simon Fraser University. It was a lone wolf amongst cutting edge books on wildlife management.
This book captivated me, all bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed about prospects for my new-found career. It introduced me to the concepts of viewpoints and perspectives. I photocopied a few pages and stuck them on my wall, as a reminder to pause and reflect. There are lessons to be learned from history.
Over the years, I have shared these pages with others, usually in response to perplexing conversations wildlife management issues. Eighteen years later (99 years after the commission), I still have them tacked to my wall. Together, we have moved 11 times. How do I know? I just counted the thumb tack holes. That seems about right.
Here are a few excerpts from the book, in italics.
Principles Underlying Game Protection
“It may rightly be asked: ‘What is a proper public attitude toward wild game of the country?” Some confusion exists in the public mind, and a great deal of talking to no purpose is indulged in, which might perhaps be avoided by the formation of a few guiding principles.” (Commission of Conservation Canada 1916)
“The effort to protect the grizzly is a recognition of the fact that the grizzly bear is not always a pest that should be exterminated, but, except in a stock country, is a perfectly harmless animal under ordinary circumstances and one that may be made a source of considerable revenue.” (Commission of Conservation Canada 1916)
“The efforts for the protection of the black bear should be directed towards ill-advised bounty legislation and perhaps towards the establishment of a closed season when fur is not prime.” (Commission of Conservation Canada 1916)
“Of all of the big game of the mountains, the cougar or mountain lion has probably the least savoury reputation. Fortunately, it is a comparatively rare animal on the East slope, though common enough in parts of British Columbia…It is hard to consider this animal anything but a dangerous pest.” (Commission of Conservation Canada 1916)
“Both species of wolves, the timber wolf and the coyote, are found in the Rockies…Neither seem to warrant protection, while the timber wolf is undoubtedly a dangerous, predatory animal and should be exterminated.” (Commission of Conservation Canada 1916)
On the Troublesome Three
“The cougar is rare and the timber wolf almost non-existent, while the prairie wolf is very abundant. All three are noxious animals, dangerous both to domestic livestock and game and should be destroyed.” (Commission of Conservation Canada 1916)
All the Other Critters
In summarizing the situation for big game animals, the authors get on to the practicality of fur-bearing animals and other critters.
“Fur-bearing animals are, on the whole, very scarce, except perhaps the lynx. Mink and marten occur in a few places in fair numbers; beaver, once almost extinct, are becoming numerous under protection. Other animals occur only sparingly.” (Commission of Conservation Canada 1916)
To be honest, I was shocked the first time I read these pages. Now, I see them in a different light; what will people interested in the fates of carnivores be thinking in future generations when they read books on carnivore conservation from today? They might be shocked by some of what they read too. Bringing it closer to home: I reflect on what my ancestors’ lives, viewpoints, and perspectives might have been like back then; what future generations might glean from my work about our culture; and whether or not they might also find some threads unbroken by time.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Clark, T.W. Clark, M.B. Rutherford, and D. Casey. Editors. 2005. Coexisting with large carnivores: lessons from Greater Yellowstone. Island Press. Washington, U.S.A.
Commission of Conservation Canada. 1916. Committee on fisheries, game and fur-bearing animals: conservation of fish, birds and game. Proceedings at a meeting of the committee, November 1 and 2, 1915. The Methodist Book and Publishing House, Toronto.