In 2015, Christy Clark, who was then Premier of British Columbia, defended the province’s grizzly bear hunt, saying it was “scientifically managed.” The fall hunt in B.C. has since been cancelled, along with the annual trophy hunt. Politicians often use “science” as a buzzword when they defend controversial wildlife policies, but most hunt management plans in the US and Canada are actually not based in science, according to new research.
In a study published today in Science Advances, researchers found that approximately 60 percent of the hunt management policies they studied—which spanned both Canadian territories and provinces, and US states—lacked a scientific approach to management, which would include four “hallmarks” of science: having measurable objectives (or a specific goal), being evidence-based, transparency, and independently review.
A hunt management plan is, ideally, a way for government to help with animal conservation by allowing a certain amount of hunting to occur. The study authors analyzed 667 management systems in 62 states, provinces, and territories, and asked specific questions based on each of those four aforementioned pillars.
Study author Kyle Artelle, a biologist with the nonprofit Raincoast Conservation Foundation who has previously written for Motherboard, said that hunt management policies necessarily include a range of considerations, including Indigenous practices. He said it’s important for the public to know exactly how much, or how little, science is involved, for the sake of transparency. After all, the public is footing the bill.
“What’s dangerous is if [science] gets used as rhetoric, as a political tool”
“There have been a lot of cases where agencies directly claim a science-based approach,” he said in an interview. “In cases like that, it’s important to be very clear where science begins and ends in given decisions.”
Artelle said that the researchers focused this paper specifically on hunt management because it’s an important part of wildlife management more generally.
“In both Canada and the US, ‘wildlife management’ is disproportionately about ‘hunt management’,” he explained. (The paper did not get into words and promises from specific politicians.)
“What’s dangerous is if [science] does just get used as rhetoric, as a political tool,” Artelle said. “You get into this situation where it might not be clear which claims are truly based in science and which ones are politics.”
A remedy against this is the process of independent review, said Artelle. But the study found that only about six percent of the wildlife management systems in this paper had any external review.
Artelle said that this paper isn’t a criticism of individual wildlife managers, many of whom were very interested in the study, according to him. He said the public deserves to know exactly how science is being used to inform policy that directly affects the natural world around them.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that only six percent of wildlife management systems in the paper were subject to review. In fact, this number refers to those subject to external review specifically. The piece has been updated.
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