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Press Release – TWS Conference Proves Desire for Cooperation, not Conflict, in Wildlife Management

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For Immediate Release

November 28, 2022

Contact
Rachel Bjork,
President, Northwest Animals Rights Network, [email protected]

Hannah Thompson-Garner, Director of Advocacy and Mission Advancement, Northwest Animal Rights Network, [email protected], (206) 229-2035​

Safety For Bears In the Spring, PNW Commercial Fishing Net Pen Bans, Dam Breach Announcements: All Signs of Change – Not War – For WA Fish and Wildlife Management

Before this year’s TWS conference, a very small faction of hunters and fishers attempted to paint an image of war and hate brewing between the “two sides” of fish and wildlife conservation practitioners; the traditional natural resource managers, and the new-age animal rights extremists. Turns out, there was no war and hate on the ground, and the nuances between practitioners could never be reduced to an black and white old-versus new-mentality. However, there was lots and lots of dialogue, and many signs of mutually positive change.

Seattle, WA. – Earlier this month, the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Fish & Wildlife Commission voted to not allow permit renewals for the killing of Black Bears in the springtime. This ban on hunting Bears in the springtime falls in line with the larger hunting policy at WDFW dictating that no other game species may be hunted in the spring, with the exception of Turkeys. The so-called “extremist” conservationists, labeled as such by writers at Sportsmen’s Alliance because of the perceived animal rights agendas of many of the organizations, have been advocating for years to end Black Bear hunting season in the springtime because of particular ethical concerns around hunting groggy Bears just up from hibernation, along with concerns surrounding the orphaning of cubs. However, if animal rights advocacy is the criteria for “extremism,” among conservationists’ ranks, very few actual animal rights organizations have been present in these conversations, creating a confusing narrative over who the players really are in wildlife management reform.

More traditional hunting groups also advocated for an end to spring bear hunting, along with moderate-leaning environmental and animal welfare organizations. Essential to this success was the coming together of all three of these conservation groups, only one of which has been labeled as extremist. This win is huge for conservationists who advocate for a more compassionate, ecosystem-centric model of management as one of the main pillars of positive reform. Adopting a more ecosystem-centric and holistic model of fish and wildlife management, one that prioritizes true conservation over consumption, will help ease the rift between conservation camps because an all-encompassing model of management will likely take into account more perspectives from a diverse group of stakeholders, if done correctly. For example, NARN is a current member of the WA Fish and Wildlife Reform Coalition, a coalition focused on promoting values of conservation over ones of consumption for fish and wildlife.

While NARN itself as an organization advocates based on vegan principles, many of our partners working on wildlife management reform include hunting and fishing as a reason for doing so. Despite our differences, both NARN and these other organizations all want the same end goal: sustainable, conservation-first management principles that prioritize considering the individual nonhuman animal in conservation management decisions, rather than lumping all individuals into a general species category and managing them on a species-by-species basis. Many of us feel broad categorical language, such as “waterfowl” and “furbearers” also remove any notion of considering the individual contribution that each nonhuman animal has on an ecosystem. Considering the inherent value of individuals within the ecosystem will better allow management practitioners to make holistic, durable, and compassionate choices while forming policy decisions. Furthermore, diversity in and of the organizations working in wildlife reform is essential, given the cultural and spiritual connection to nature that many have as a fundamental aspect of their identity.

In fact, the WDFW WA Fish and Wildlife Commission repeatedly stated the need for various stakeholders holding different values to work together in an effective and collaborative way during its most recent meeting. The Commissioners, with some exceptions, have been attempting to lead by example since Chair Barbara Baker took the reins. The Commission engaged in a structured decision making process for the spring Bear decision due to their personal values making it difficult to come to agreement over many aspects of the issue. A majority of the commissioners have expressed the need to work together and to listen to each carefully before jumping to conclusions. Outgoing Commissioner Don McIsaac acknowledged that a diverse Commission “can provide stability and success to fulfilling the Commission’s legislative mandate.”

During the most recent Wildlife Society (TWS) conference in Spokane, WA, the need to strengthen management agencies and to adopt values truly reflective of the diversity of stakeholders within them, and reflective of the public that they serve, was a running dialogue among presenters and attendees alike. Practitioners supposedly at “war” largely came together for productive discourse, despite a very vocal minority attempting to further drive a wedge between them before the conference; perhaps out of fear driven by an intense barrage of incendiary media. WDFW is very aware of this shift in values and attitudes amongst leading conservationists and the general public; the spring Bear hunt reflects this awareness and NARN hopes that the Dept. acknowledges the need to work with a more diverse group of stakeholders that hold these publicly accepted values.

Other indicators that fish and wildlife management, and natural resources management in general, is experiencing a major value shift may be found in the WA Dept. of Natural Resources decision to not renew permitting for net pen fish farmers, Cooke Aquaculture. Shortly after the decision, Hilary Franz, the WA Commissioner of Public Lands, issued an order permanently banning net pen fish farms in Puget Sound waters. These decisions helping Puget Sound waters are more reflective of the growing notion that fish and wildlife have unique and innate value respective to themselves as individuals.

WA Gov. Inslee and WA Sen. Patty Murray have called for the removal of four lower Snake River dams in response to the devastatingly dwindling Southern Resident Orca population due to the steady disappearance of Chinook Salmon. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recently came out with its own report advocating for a lower Snake River dam breach after the agency was slammed with a court ruling finding that it violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing for unsustainable commercial salmon harvests in southeast Alaska, despite knowing such levels of harvest would push Southern Resident Orcas closer to extinction. Momentum for lower Snake River breaching will likely continue to only grow, given the recent decision to breach four Klamath River dams on the border of California and Oregon.

These truly inspiring and crucial wins for fish and wildlife in the Western region of North America are the result of years, sometimes decades, of hard work by conservationists. This work includes learning how to work with a diverse group of stakeholders for the sake of cooperation, dialogue, and empathy. The TWS conference in Spokane only served to further emphasize a collective need to get along, combat misinformation and violent rhetoric, and perhaps most importantly, listen to one another. By and large, conservation practitioners did just that during the week-long conference, of which all of us, humans and nonhumans alike, may only benefit from in the end.

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