Science vs. Cognitive Dissonance, Opinion vs. Fact in Today's Conservation:

Conservation is everyone's business. However, it becomes tricky when emotional-based public platforms interfere with science-based research. The interface along which wildlife and people now interact is becoming increasingly crowded and complex. Science is quickly becoming no longer valid enough amongst media attentions and is terrifyingly overlooked as vague notions of 'morality' are embedded through opinion. And while we all have opinions, not all of us have facts.

There are those of us working tirelessly with politicians, scientists, leading conservationists, biologists, foresters, outfitters and First Nations; however public assumption has taken precedent over scientific research. Unfortunately for this, public assumption often is lead by emotion, unawareness, inexposure and is voiced by large groups with strong voices passing information that is not fact but a vague opinion. Where this becomes an issue, is our perception of what conservation means. The word conservation has become a notion, a western idea or topic brought up over light table talk. A fad notion, where opinions lead, and facts are overlooked. Conservation is being simplified with the idea that it all can be taken care of with a simple prescription of what you believe it to be; 'if politicians only did this', 'if we only had diets consisting of that', 'if we preserve everything over conserve', 'if we allow Mother Nature to run her course again'. We break conservation into a matter of ethics, simplicity and intolerance against the ‘other’.

As aforementioned, the term 'conservation' is being used by media platforms, where quick opinions are being passed as fact on the CBC, BC Wildlife Federation medias, social media, online forums and word of mouth. The Grizzly Bear hunt was shut down this week by our new provincial leaders as a political movement to adhere to these very same opinion based facts. This is wildly concerning, not because resident hunters and non residents cannot hunt these magnificent creatures, but that our political leaders chose opinion over fact and that our population chose to believe opinions as fact. While the most current research shows we have the second largest grizzly bear population in all of Northern America (15,000), 35% of Canada is prohibited to grizzly bear hunting, hunters harvest less than 2% of all grizzly bears annually, (165 resident hunters, to 65 non residents), dominant male grizzlies kill and eat cubs resulting in large numbers of infanticide (grizzly bear hunting targets those bears and limits infanticide, resulting in higher bear populations; without, populations will dwindle), bears do not have a natural fear of man, this is learned behaviour through hunting and will lead to more opportunities for nuisance bears to be destroyed annually, more grizzlies are killed in Yellowstone National Park than in our Great Bear Rainforest and grizzly bears are NOT considered endangered, in fact they are one of our healthiest species in British Columbia. Now these are facts. These are not opinions, these are researched backed facts from leading biologists within BC.

I understand, I've grown up in a world very different than some of my friends. I've been raised with the love of the outdoors, the love of wildlife and the acute understanding of life cycles. I've been around hunting and fishing my entire life, but have always choose not to air the issue as it is controversial, it is uncomfortable and it is bloody. However, now more than ever, the idea of preservation versus conservation is seemingly more preferred by public opinion. Wild life stewardship is utmost the most important job we have on this planet as global citizens, as citizens of dare I say two of the most powerful of countries, United States and Canada. We are accountable and should be accountable for our natural world. I'm sorry to say, but it is foolish to believe Mother Nature will run her course if we keep allowing science to be overruled by emotional backed opinions. Our natural world ebbs and flows, due to climate change, hard winters, species population health, deforestation, rising population, uncontrolled industries and human expansionism. Hunting based conservation is rich with tradition, ethics, politics, economics, ecology, human culture, geo-politics, science, and resistance. Conservation is the most complicated problem in the world. This is a matter of concern for political elites and public cohesiveness. Take our latest election in British Columbia for example, conservation was a minor, if not insignificant issue, briefly addressing the topic of pipelines, oil, and placing a LNG plant over one of the most sensitive habitats for salmon. We as people need to speak up, we need to bring conservation to the forefront of political discussions within BC and Canada. We need to use science to back our opinions, and most critically, we need to have professional dialogue. We cannot simply blame the other side, "if the Green Party did this" or "those blood thirsty conservatives did that". Conservation is everybody's issue, and right now more than ever. This needs to be on a political agenda, on a global agenda and on a personal agenda. This is not just for biologists, politicians, and those in scientific fields. We need to do the right thing for wildlife, for natural creatures, and humanity. There is nothing more important than conservation, and in the next lifetime, our children's children will see. I do not believe it will ever be solved, but it is a devotion our lives should adhere too.

Now while we are all concerned over the grizzly bear hunt, we have neglected our moose population, our caribou and our mule deer populations. Moose populations have deteriorated by 70% since 2005, meaning that we only have 30% of a once healthy ungulate population. Our BC caribou population has now been red-listed, and Mule deer numbers across the province are declining. So I ask, why is hunting a rapidly declining moose population ethical yet another species with healthy numbers is deemed unethical? Cultural animal icons, such as the grizzly bear are magnified and majestified. Why are moose, caribou and mule deer not? The term ‘trophy hunting’ is generally brought up around this time; and while ‘trophy hunting’ or ‘trophy fishing’ may have many different definitions, and different opinions, it should be known that the Guide Outfitter Association of BC had argued in having all meat harvested with the animal. Why is there the belief that hunters do not take their meat? There is an idea that hunters do not eat bear meat, and that bear meat is never taken. How is that recorded? How is that information backed with concrete evidence? Simple, it is a falsity. This is exactly why opinion based ‘facts’ are dangerous. It is believed that hunters do not take their harvests’ protein; however, it is not recorded any where that they do not, and when speaking with outfitters and resident hunters, it is generally frowned upon not taking their entire harvest. In this very idea, two sides of hunters and anti-hunters are aligned in the idea that disposing of protein should not be permitted. Why is the divide between us versus them so strong, in that the idea of agreeing on a stance is not even taken into consideration. Dialogue creates wider and more effective coalitions for wildlife conservation and public engagement.

The issue arrises when people are comfortable with having grizzlies as viewing species caged on the mountain top of a popular hike in Vancouver. The issue arrises when people now have taken economic value away from grizzlies, which will inevitably turn them into pests, or nuisance bears. The issue arrises when corporations and advocacy groups use falsified information for economic gains. What happens to all of these corporations and advocacy groups now, they have a business, a career, employees that need to be paid? Where do these businesses turn next? Is it ethical to make economic gains out of banning the grizzly bear hunt? A heavily controlled hunt that has been scientifically deemed as sustainable and crucial for ecological balance. Why is there not the same support for ungulates on cusp of elimination? Why are we not working together to fight the cause of obsolescence, deforestation, unregulated forestry, the spraying of poisonous herbicide? These are questions that also need to be asked. Cognitive dissonance, the state of having one’s beliefs or ideals contradicted by new information, has become a social norm. I argue that it is also the reason why opinion based facts are so freely believed because they purposely trigger an emotional response into our psyches. Emotional based marketing is unethical and dangerous. Facts are twisted to points beyond truth and in turn become new ‘facts’. Today’s public do not fact check, they do not read into bias, they freely share opinions via social medias, and they believe the first ‘truth’ that aligns with their belief. Here we have a social crisis of cognitive dissonance. If we truly believe in our fight, whatever it may be, why are we not able to look at what the other side has to say? Would that not make us more informed, more steadfast in our opinions? And what if we found out our facts were wrong, or our belief was wrong, would we change? For the sake of conservation, our natural world, I pray that we would.

What I ask of you, whether you are for or against the grizzly bear hunt, become informed, become active, check your facts, look for bias, ask uncomfortable questions, look for common ground between us and them, question public opinion, question your own opinion. If you cannot challenge your own opinion, and you cannot listen professionally, question respectively and attempt to listen to the other side, are you in this fight for our natural world, conservation and animal prosperity, or are you in this for your own opinion to be right?

#conservation #socialmedia #hunting #science