A few days ago, I posted on Raincoast’s buyout of guide-outfitter hunting rights in coastal BC. The upshot is that I questioned whether the buyout was the wisest possible use of conservation dollars and postulated that conservation investments can benefit from rigorous accounting. As blog posts are wont to do, it circulated around the web where it attracted a variety of feedback—thoughtful rebuttals and inquiries, incoherent ranting, and a fairly vicious attack penned by Chris Genovali, the executive director of Raincoast.

So in response to some of the criticisms—many of which were both thoughtful and thought-provoking—I’ve decided to post here a response to Genovali. I’m hoping today’s post can serve as a useful contribution to a reasoned debate about an issue than many of us care about deeply—species protection. Here goes (gulp)…

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  • Chris,

    I must confess that I’m baffled by the venom in your response.A plain reading of my article reveals thatfar from being “an opportunistic hit piece“–it was a set of musings and questions about the merits of Raincoast’s buyouts and the larger question of which conservation strategies are most effective at protecting biodiversity. (I encourage readers to take a look at my original article and decide for themselves.)

    As a lifelong advocate for wildlands and species protection I’m thrilled by much of what Raincoast has accomplished in BC. But I’m disappointed that Raincoast’s good work is marred by an inability to brook even mild questioning. It is, I believe, worth pointing out that the ecological implications of hunting, even big game hunting, are complex. Personally, I find the trophy hunting of predators abhorrent, but that alone doesn’t mean that, on the whole, it is bad for biodiversity. In fact, the totality of the ecosystem implications of hunting are far from clear and are a subject of ongoing debate among wildlife biologists.

    My main objective with the article, a point that I fear may have been overlooked, was to suggest that conservation decisions can benefit from rigorous accounting practices. That is, we need to consider costs and benefits, leverage points, and opportunity costs. Conservationists may have additional ethical issues in mind—the rights of indigenous peoples, trails and access for users, and concerns about hunting, just to name a very few—but these issues ought to be treated separately from the essential question: how can we protect native biodiversity most effectively and efficiently?

    In the original post on Sightline’s The Daily Score (formerly the Cascadia The Daily Score), and in its re-publication on The Tyee, I invited information from readers that would prove to me the wisdom of Raincoast’s actions. Your article in response provides some (along with an unfortunate amount of embittered name calling).

    For example, it’s clearly germane—as you pointed out—that Horejsi et al. concluded that coastal grizzly populations are depressed and that sport hunting is contributing to the decline. But I remain unclear about why it matters, from a purely conservation perspective, whether guide-outfitter hunting resembles a search and destroy mission. A good conservation accounting would demonstrate that guide-outfitter hunting is especially damaging to grizzly populations in a way that other activities are not—such as hunting by BC residents, clearcut logging, road-building, and even ecotourism. At the least, a solid case could perhaps be made that these other threats cannot be addressed with the resources at hand, and so guide-outfitter rights are the best available buy. I would like to hear that case and be convinced that the buyouts were directed primarily at conservation and not simply at alleviating a practice that some (myself included) find disturbing (that is, trophy hunting).

    It’s also relevant that trophy hunting can have ecological implications that ripple beyond the individual animal killed, as Chris Darimont, the conservation biologist you cite, points out. This is a meaningful strike against trophy hunting and, while it is not the only consideration, it is precisely the sort of evidence that is worth weighing in the balance.

    I admit, however, to being perplexed by carnivore expert Paul Paquet’s argument, which you quote at length. For one thing, I never suggested that the “only” way to conserve large carnivores is to allow trophy hunting.
    Instead, I pointed out that tr
    ophy hunting has perversely beneficial effects in some contexts. As another example, I  was recently fortunate to visit the world’s leading cheetah conservation center in South Africa. While interviewing their staff biologists I was surprised to learn that a large contingent of experts who have devoted themselves to protecting cheetahs actually support trophy hunting—on the grounds that not hunting cheetahs is actually worse for the animals in the long run. They were willing to take a hard look at the conservation realities and conduct a genuine accounting of the costs and benefits of limited hunting. Perhaps Raincoast has conducted such an analysis. If so, sharing it would help me, and many others, to understand the rationale for your strategy.

    Finally, the overall strategy seems confused. If the point of buying the guide-outfitter rights is truly to protect native biodiversity, then the payoff seems small for such an expensive investment. As I understand it, because the buyout includes only certain guide-outfitter rights (not the less expensive rights for BC residents) it prevents the killing of a fairly small number of grizzlies per year and, if I’m not mistaken, the kill rate has been even lower in recent years.

    Still willing to be convinced,

    Eric de Place