A Sense of Entitlement is Not the Same as Environmental Ethic

A friend asked me how I would respond to someone who wrote this: “Hunters started the conservation movement in the early part of the last century, and in the United States are the largest financially contributing group to Wildlife Restoration and Conservation.”

My answer?: The only reason hunters got involved is that they’d overhunted so many species practically to extinction and they wanted to save their sport. John Muir and others were around in the 1800s, selflessly speaking for wildlife and against hunting.

And, as another commenter to this blog just pointed out: “The stark reality is this: National Wildlife “Refuges” were originally set up to serve as “duck factories” for the hunting & trapping industries, along with opportunities for livestock grazing.”

Before hunters go around tooting their own horns, they should consider the motives behind their actions. If they’re ultimately self-serving, they are not necessarily all that praiseworthy. Don’t let hunters ‘shit you, an overblown sense of entitlement is not the same as a selfless environmental ethic.

Wolf Photos Copyright Jim Robertson

Wolf Photos Copyright Jim Robertson

Ecocide Is Suicide: Compassion and Personal Rewilding



We’re killing a very tired and less resilient planet at alarming rates.

It’s common knowledge that we’re losing species and habitats at an unprecedented rate in a geological epoch known as the “anthropocene” – the age of humanity. While the term has not been formally recognized as official nomenclature, we know we’re deep into a time when humans are devastating numerous species and their homes and we are behaving in the most inhumane and selfish ways. Simply put, we humans are the cause of such massive and egregious ecocide because as big-brained, big-footed, overproducing, overconsuming, arrogant, and selfish mammals we freely move all over the place recklessly, wantonly, and mindlessly trumping the interests of countless nonhuman animals (animals). Every second of every day we decide who lives and who dies; we are that powerful. Of course, we also do many wonderful things for our magnificent planet and its fascinating inhabitants, but right now, rather than pat ourselves on the back for all the good things we do, we need to take action to right the many wrongs before it’s too late for other animals and ourselves.

I see at least two ways out of the environmental and moral muck in which we’re mired that is responsible for widespread and increasing ecocide. The first centers on paying careful attention to the rapidly growing international and interdisciplinary field called “compassionate conservation” and the second is our choosing to go through a personally transformative process that I call “rewilding our hearts”. Rewilding our hearts calls for a global paradigm shift, a social revolution, in how we interact with other animals and with other humans. 

Compassionate conservation

The goals of compassionate conservation are clearly stated in the mission statement for a recently established Centre for Compassionate Conservation (see also) at the University of Technology, Sydney (Australia) and in a book I edited called Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation.

The mission statement for the Centre for Compassionate Conservation promotes the protection of captive and wild animals as individuals within conservation practice and policy. Finding ways to compassionately and practically share space (coexistence), via trade-offs among different values, is vital if we are to reduce harm to animals.

A simple and morally acceptable approach is to utilize the universal ethic of compassion (and empathy) to alleviate suffering in humans and other animals to resolve issues of land sharing. A compassionate and practical ethic for conservation that focuses on individual well being, in combination with other values, provides a novel framework of transparency and robust decision-making for conservation that will benefit all stakeholders.

Compassionate conservation stipulates that we need a conservation ethic that prioritizes the protection of other animals as individuals: not just as members of populations of species, but valued in their own right. This is important because of what we now know about their cognitive and emotional lives (consciousness and sentience).

Because compassionate conservation requires that we must protect animals as individuals, they are not merely objects or metrics who can be traded off for the good of populations, species or biodiversity.

A paradigm shift in our approach to other animals is vital because of what we now know about the cognitive and emotional capacities of other animals and their ability to suffer (sentience).

With a guiding principle of “first do no harm“, compassionate conservation offers a bold, virtuous, inclusive, and forward-looking framework that provides a meeting place for different perspectives and agendas to discuss and solve issues of human-animal conflict when sharing space. Peaceful coexistence with other animals and their homes is needed in an increasingly human-dominated world if we are to preserve and conserve nature the best we can.

Surely, adhering to the principles of compassionate conservation will go a long way toward reducing the ecocide in which we are now engaged and for which we all are responsible.

Rewilding our hearts

My forthcoming book called Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence lays out the details for a much-needed social movement and paradigm shift that also can help extricate us from our ecocidal ways and help to maintain our hopes and dreams for a more peaceful world for all beings in very trying times. Some of the basic ideas are reviewed here. We live in a world in which “unwilding” is the norm rather than the exception. If we didn’t unwild we wouldn’t have to rewild.

The word “rewilding” became an essential part of talk among conservationists in the late 1990s when two well-known conservation biologists, Michael Soulé and Reed Noss, wrote a now classic paper called “Rewilding and biodiversity: Complimentary goals for continental conservation” that appeared in the magazine WIld Earth (Fall 1998, 18-28. 15).

In her book Rewilding the World conservationist Caroline Fraser noted that rewilding basically could be boiled down to three words: Cores, Corridors, and Carnivores. Dave Foreman, director of the Rewilding Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a true visionary, sees rewilding as a conservation strategy based on three premises: “(1) healthy ecosystems need large carnivores, (2) large carnivores need bug, wild roadless areas, and (3) most roadless areas are small and thus need to be linked.” Conservation biologists and others who write about rewilding or work on rewilding projects see it as a large-scale process involving projects of different sizes that go beyond carnivores, such as the ambitious, courageous, and forward-looking Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, well known as the Y2Y project. Of course, rewilding goes beyond carnivores, as it must.

The core words associated with large-scale rewilding projects are connection and connectivity, the establishment of links among geographical areas so that animals can roam as freely as possible with few if any disruptions to their movements. For this to happen ecosystems must be connected so that their integrity and wholeness are maintained or reestablished.

Regardless of scale, ranging from huge areas encompassing a wide variety of habitats that need to be reconnected or that need to be protected to personal interactions with animals and habitats, the need to rewild and reconnect centers on the fact that there has been extensive isolation and fragmentation “out there” in nature, between ourselves and (M)other nature, and within ourselves. Many, perhaps most, human animals, are isolated and fragmented internally concerning their relationships with nonhuman animals, so much that we’re alienated from them. We don’t connect with other animals, including other humans, because we can’t or don’t empathize with them. The same goes for our lack of connection with various landscapes. We don’t understand they’re alive, vibrant, dynamic, magical, and magnificent. Alienation often results in different forms of domination and destruction, but domination is not what it means “to be human.” Power does not mean license to do whatever we want to do because we can.

Rewilding projects often involve building wildlife bridges and underpasses so that animals can freely move about. These corridors, as they’re called, can also be more personalized. I see rewilding our heart as a dynamic process that will not only foster the development of corridors of coexistence and compassion for wild animals but also facilitate the formation of corridors within our bodies that connect our heart and head. In turn, these connections, or reconnections, will result in positive feelings that will facilitate heartfelt actions to make the lives of animals better. These are the sorts of processes that will help the new field of compassionate conservation further develop. When I think about what can be done to help others a warm feeling engulfs me and I’m sure it’s part of that feeling of being rewilded. To want to help others in need is natural so that glow is to be expected.

Rewilding is an attitude. It’s also a guide for action. As a social movement, it needs to be proactive, positive, persistent, patient, peaceful, practical, powerful, and passionate — which I call the eight Ps of rewilding.

Compassion begets compassion and there’s actually a synergistic relationship, not a trade-off, when we show compassion for animals and their homes. There are indeed many reasons for hope. There’s also compelling evidence that we’re born to be good and that we’re natural-born optimists. Therein lie many reasons for hope that in the future we will harness our basic goodness and optimism and all work together as a united community. We can look to the animals for inspiration. So, we need to tap into our empathic, compassionate and moral inclinations to make the world a better place for all beings. We need to build a culture of empathy. We need to add a healthy dose of social justice to our world right now.

We can all make more humane and compassionate choices to expand our compassion footprint, and we can all do better. We must all try as hard as we can to keep thinking positively and proactively. Never say never, ever. We can and must keep our hopes and dreams alive (see also).

When all is said and done, and more is usually said than done, we need a heartfelt revolution in how we think, what we do with what we know, and how we act. Rewilding can be a very good guide. The revolution has to come from deep within us and begin at home, in our heart and wherever we live. I want to make the process of rewilding a more personal journey and exploration that centers on bringing other animals and their homes, ecosystems of many different types, back into our heart. For some they’re already there or nearly so, whereas for others it will take some work to have this happen. Nonetheless, it’s inarguable that if we’re going to make the world a better place now and for future generations, personal rewilding is central to the process and will entail a major paradigm shift in how we view and live in the world, and how we behave. It’s not that hard to expand our compassion footprint and if each of us does something the movement will grow rapidly.

The time is right, the time is now, for an inspirational, revolutionary, and personal social movement that can save us from doom and keep us positive while we pursue our hopes and dreams. Our planet is tired and dying and not as resilient as some claim it to be.

Rewild now. Take the leap. Leap and the net will appear. It’ll feel good to rewild because compassion and empathy are very contagious. 

Let’s make personal rewilding all the rage

Ecocide is suicide. Let’s make personal rewilding all the rage. When “they” (other animals) lose, we all lose. We suffer the indignities to which we subject other animals. We can feel their pains and suffering if we allow ourselves to do so.

Compassion begets compassion and violence begets violence.

There really is hope if we change our ways. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations who will inherit the world we leave them long after we’re gone.

Note: An excellent new book on this topic is Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth edited by George Wuerthner, Eileen Crist, and Tom Butler.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014. (marcbekoff.com@MarcBekoff

Human “Progress”

Rosemary commented: “We are seeing a longing for so-called ‘traditional’ ways of life, a manic nostalgia for something that really never was–except it was a less crowded world.”

To which I replied: I’ve thought that same thing many times. The only reason human life ever seemed to be in any kind of harmony with the rest of nature is that there were a LOT fewer of us. Sorry, but there’s no way an ever-growing population of humans can hope to be sustainable.

Here is a simple yet accurate depiction of human evolutionary “progress.”


What Goes Up…

To all those of breeding age who are considering starting a family or adding yet another human child to this already dangerously over-crowded world, I politely urge you, with all due respect, to please think again. If not for the fragile planet’s sake or for the sake of every other struggling life form headed for mass extinction, then for the child’s sake, your sake and for sanity’s sake. Go ahead and adopt, whether human or non-human, but please don’t add to every environmental woe known to—and caused by—man by falling prey to the ill-advised notion that propagating is our duty or prerogative.

The world as we know it is headed for collapse. Do you really want your precious offspring to witness the unraveling of all of Earth’s systems or suffer the reckoning that’s soon to befall those unfortunate enough to be here when humankind’s self-serving environmental crimes come back on them? Can’t you see that the sheer weight of the human race is crushing everything and everyone else?

As a good friend, a young woman wise beyond her years, put it, those who consider reproducing to be a positive prospect for the twenty-first century “must be closing their eyes, plugging up their ears, and singing ‘Lalalala!’ very loudly.”

What goes up must come down, people; and for the past couple of hundred years or so, the human population has been accelerating skyward—breaking all sound barriers in a headlong quest to defy gravity, burst out of the Earth’s atmosphere and sail on to oblivion—taking all of creation with it.


Salmon shortages stressing grizzlies



VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Nov. 28 2013

When salmon runs dwindle on the B.C. coast, the stress levels in grizzlies climb, say researchers who examined hair samples collected from more than 70 bears.

And the bears, which gather along rivers in the fall to feed on spawning salmon, take those high stress levels with them into hibernation, perhaps affecting their long-term health, according to a science paper published Wednesday.

The study is expected to add weight to a growing argument that commercial salmon harvests on the West Coast should be managed not just for people, but also to reflect the needs of bears and other wildlife.

“Part of the reason bears might be experiencing stress is the fact we compete with them for food. And we really need to think about our fisheries not only in terms of our needs as humans but also of the needs of other species,” said lead author, Heather Bryan, a Hakai postdoctoral researcher at University of Victoria and a biologist with Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

In 2010, federal department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists John Ford and Graeme Ellis linked killer-whale survival to the abundance of Chinook salmon, and called on the government to consider setting aside allocations of salmon for whales.

Chris Darimont, who co-authored the grizzly-bear study, said it’s clear bears also need a share.

“Our findings highlight the importance of managing fisheries in a way that ensures enough salmon are allowed past fish nets to meet the needs of bears and other wildlife,” said Dr. Darimont, a UVic professor and the science director at Raincoast.

Dr. Bryan said the research showed the stress hormone, cortisol, was higher in bears that ate less salmon.

“That’s not surprising if you think about how stressful it would be to be going into a winter without enough food,” she said.

The long-term health implications for grizzlies haven’t been studied yet by Dr. Bryan, but other wildlife studies have shown that animals with high cortisol levels can have shortened life spans.

Dr. Bryan’s research was possible because of a network of 71 “hair snags” researchers have been monitoring for several years on a grid that covers 5,000 square kilometres on B.C.’s mainland coast. The area stretches from near northern Vancouver Island to around Prince Rupert.

“We were interested in looking at the health effects of long-term salmon declines on bears. And how we did it is we took a few milligrams of bear hair [from each grizzly] and we used that to gain insights into the health of these several-hundred-kilogram animals,” said Dr. Bryan.

She said some of the hair came from the B.C. archives, where samples from bears killed by hunters are kept. But much of it came from the hair snags – barbed wire wrapped around trees marked with fermented fish oil.

“It’s a delicious odour for bears … they come and check it out … they usually only stay a few seconds but it’s usually long enough to leave behind a strand of hair,” said Dr. Bryan.

She said none of the field workers has ever had a dangerous encounter with the bears, despite spending weeks gathering hair samples in prime grizzly habitat.

Working with only a few strands of hair from each animal, Dr. Bryan said she was able to to both measure the level of cortisol and to determine how rich a bear’s salmon diet was. The data showed that when salmon runs declined on B.C.’s Central Coast, in 2008 and 2009, stress levels increased. And when salmon runs increased, as they did in 2010, the stress levels declined.

In 2009, conservationists and ecotourism guides along the B.C. coast reported a huge drop in the number of bears they were seeing along rivers and they blamed the decline on two successive poor salmon runs. Bear watchers speculated many animals had died during hibernation and that others had stopped breeding because they were starving.

Grizzly photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Grizzly photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Bonobo’s hurtling towards extinction

Wednesday, November 27, 2013, 16:20

Washington: A study, which is the most detailed range-wide assessment of theelephant-range-map
bonobo- formerly known as the pygmy chimpanzee- ever conducted, has revealed
that this endangered great ape is quickly losing space in a world because of
forest fragmentation and poaching.

The research was conducted by University of Georgia, University of Maryland,
the Wildlife Conservation Society, ICCN (Congolese Wildlife Authority),
African Wildlife Foundation, Zoological Society of Milwaukee, World Wildlife
Fund, Max Planck Institute, Lukuru Foundation, University of Stirling, Kyoto
University, and other groups.

Using data from nest counts and remote sensing imagery, the research team
found that the bonobo avoids areas of high human activity and forest

According to the model developed by the researchers in the study, as little
as 28 percent of the bonobo’s range remains suitable.

“This assessment is a major step towards addressing the substantial
information gap regarding the conservation status of bonobos across their
entire range. The results of the study demonstrate that human activities
reduce the amount of effective bonobo habitat and will help us identify
where to propose future protected areas for this great ape,”
lead author Dr. Jena R. Hickey of Cornell University and the University of
Georgia, said.

The bonobo is smaller in size and more slender in build than the common
chimpanzee. The great ape’s social structure is complex and matriarchal.
Unlike the common chimpanzee, bonobos establish social bonds and diffuse
tension or aggression with sexual behaviors.

Second author of the study, Dr. Janet Nackoney, said Bonobos that live in
closer proximity to human activity and to points of human access are more
vulnerable to poaching, one of their main threats. The results point to the
need for more places where bonobos can be safe from hunters, which is an
enormous challenge in the DRC.

The study is published in journal Biodiversity and Conservation.



Tea Party Bill Would Eviscerate Endangered Species Act


For Immediate Release, November 22, 2013

Contact: Brett  Hartl, (202) 817-8121

Tea Party Bill Would Eviscerate  Endangered Species Act

As America  Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Landmark Law, Right-wing Senators  Seek to Tear It Apart

              WASHINGTON— Tea Party senators introduced a  bill this week that would effectively end the protection of most endangered  species in the United States and gut some of the most important provisions of  the Endangered Species Act. Senate Bill 1731, introduced by Tea Party Sens.  Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller, would end protections for most of the  species that are currently protected by the Act and make it virtually  impossible to protect new species under the law. It would also eliminate protection  for habitat that’s critical to the survival of rare and struggling animals and  plants around the country.

“Here we are celebrating the 40th  anniversary of the Endangered Species Act this year, and the Tea Party wants to  tear it limb from limb,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director  at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s really a sad testament to how out  of touch the Tea Party has become with the American people, and how beholden  they are to industry special interests that are more interested in profits than  saving wildlife, wild places and a livable future for the next generation.”

In its 40-year history, the Endangered  Species Act has been more than 99 percent successful at preventing extinction  for wildlife under its protection and has put hundreds of plants and animals on  the path to recovery, including bald eagles, grizzly bears, whales and sea  turtles.

Despite this successful track record, the bill’s  most extreme provision would require that every five years all protected species be removed from the list of threatened and  endangered species, eliminating all legal protections. No matter how close to extinction they might be, every  listed species would then have to wait until Congress passed a joint resolution  renewing their protections under the Act for another five years. Five years  later, this process would start over again, eliminating all protections until  Congress passed another joint resolution.

“The strength of the Endangered Species Act  — in fact all of our nation’s environmental laws — comes from the requirement  that science, not politics, guide the protection of our wildlife, air and  water,” said Hartl. “This bill would allow extreme ideologues in Congress to  veto environmental protections for any protected species they wanted, just so  they could appease their special-interest benefactors.”

The bill would eliminate all protections for  the critical habitat of endangered species and allow state governments to  effectively veto any conservation measures designed to protect an imperiled  species within their respective state. Meanwhile federal wildlife agencies  would need to complete onerous accounting reports to estimate the costs of  protecting endangered species rather than completing tangible, on-the-ground  conservation activities to protect species and the places they live.

“This bill would devastate species  protections and open the door to log, mine and pave some of the last places on  Earth where these animals survive,” Hartl said. “It’s a boon for profiteers  like the Koch Brothers but will rob every American who values wildlife and wild  places.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a  national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000  members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species  and wild places.