All of Ourselves

It’s 2019 and let’s start with some big vulnerability…

 

I am a Conservation Scientist.

 

I am also a woman. And a settler-American-living-in-Canada. I’m a love-all-the-animals-dog-foster-mom and a marathoner and an eating-disorder survivor and a caver and a climber and a feminist and a worrier and a warrior. I’m acquainted with anxiety and depression, success and sexism, and wow imposter syndrome just wins sometimes.

 

I like getting glammed-up as much as I like being 3 days into a backpacking trip without a hair brush. I get highlights once annually and don’t always get enough sleep. I watch Netflix and work sometimes too much and sometimes too little.

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Despite all these internal diversities that enrich my life and my work and my experiences, I am constantly fighting the pressure to streamline my messaging. I feel this continuous anxiety that I shouldn’t bring my personality to my #scicomm – that I should leave my feminism and femininity, my advocacy and emotion, my outside-of-science joys out of my work in order to be qualified to *belong* in the institution of science.

 

But in 2018, I was surrounded and immensely inspired by women bringing ALL of themselves to their work. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez , Biologist Imogene , @caimarison , @livesinadream , Science.Sam , @andreajanereid , ALN , @alieward , and so(!) many more are doing something powerful and important — they are peeling back the layers of protection that women have had to utilize for so long to be taken seriously, and powerfully representing who they are and what they stand for.

 

So in 2019, I’m committed to bringing my whole self to my work. I’m bringing my intelligence and emotion, my joys, mental-hurdles, and hard days. I will bring my selfies and my backcountry adventures, my optimism and my bikini beach days. I will do so in recognition that I, that we, belong in the halls of academia, science, and government just as we are – right now. And we have the chance (each of us) to empower others as I feel I’ve been empowered this year. 💕💪🌎

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(For more on Octavio-Cortez see @alexakissinger ‘s incredible 2018 Vox article: https://www.vox.com/…/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-congress-fir… )

Of Coastal Carnivores and Conservation

It’s a misty, bracing morning on the banks of the Koeye River. Before long, the summer sun will rise to burn off the fog and reveal a world dazzling in shades of greens, blues, and sandy beige, and buzzing with biodiversity. But in these soft, quiet morning hours, a different shade of gold slinks along the brackish river. A grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) –a yearling– slumps along the shore, head low. He is patrolling for mussels and other oceanic protein along the beach. The crunch of his success, crushing calcium-rich shells, rings across the fog-steeped coastline.

A JUVENILE GRIZZLY BEAR (URSUS ARCTOS) RESTS BETWEEN MUSSEL-MUNCHING SESSIONS. PHOTO CREDIT: TYLER JESSEN.

Coastal carnivores of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest (as it is now known) are captivating to say the least. Grizzly, black (Ursus americanus) and ghostly white spirit bears(a form of the black bear; Ursus americanus kermodei), stalk forests in search of abundant salmon streams and ripe summer berries; genetically-distinct, salmon-eating wolves (Canis lupus) swim across islands for better access to ungulate prey; cougars (Puma concolor) perch in trees alongside bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), quietly awaiting unsuspecting marine or terrestrial targets.

A COASTAL GREY WOLF (CANIS LUPUS) PERCHES IN CAUTIOUS WATCH NEAR KLEMTU, BC. THESE WOLVES ARE OPPORTUNISTIC FORAGERS – CONSUMING MUSSELS, CRUNCHING BARNACLES, AND SEEKING SALMON CARCASSES AS THEY CRUISE BEACHES OF THE GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST. PHOTO CREDIT: PHILIP CHARLES.

While these predators are often revered for their majesty or falsely feared for their ferocity, their complex and vital ecological roles are less often at the forefront of conversation. The disappearance of predators has potentially catastrophic consequences and can lead to the unraveling of entire ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere. Predators regulate co-evolved prey in numbers – and in behaviour through their mere presence. Via cascading effects, the presence of carnivores in ecosystems supports the biodiversity of plants. In the Great Bear Rainforest, predators also act as essential vectors of nutrients from the sea onto land. In what is a nearly poetic interconnectivity, bears, wolves, and other carnivores partially consume salmon, and spread nutrients in leftover carcasses, urine, and faeces to provide typically-limited marine-derived nitrogen and other nutrients to the “salmon-fed forests” of the Great Bear.

A KERMODE BEAR (URSUS AMERICANUS KERMODEI), OR SPIRIT BEAR, SEEKS SALMON DURING AN EARLY FALL RUN. THE SALMON THIS BEAR CONSUMES, OR PARTIALLY CONSUMES, WILL ACT AS FERTILIZER FOR RIPARIAN FORESTS. PHOTO CREDIT: LAUREN ECKERT, PHOTO TAKEN ON SOUTHERN PRINCESS ROYAL ISLAND, IN KITASOO/XAI’XAIS TERRITORY

 

But these iconic and important coastal carnivores face harm. Many of the pressures that challenge most of life’s biodiversity in today’s world, particularly large carnivores, likewise imperil Kermode bears, grizzlies, wolves, and other carnivores of the Great Bear Rainforest. Habitat destruction in the pursuit of extractive forestry, mining, and tanker traffic expansions put the homes and marine and terrestrial prey that these species rely on at risk. Further human-induced risks put direct pressure on these individuals and species – namely in the form of human-wildlife conflict and the commercial and recreational trophy hunt. Both forms of trophy hunting of grizzly bears were recently banned in British Columbia (hunting for bears for cultural reasons remains legal) in a stunning victory for conservation advocates and coastal First Nations alike.

A BLACK KERMODE BEAR (URSUS AMERICANUS KERMODEI), EMERGES SUCCESSFULLY FROM AN EARLY-FALL FISHING ATTEMPT. PHOTO CREDIT: PHILIP CHARLES.

This recent closure of the grizzly trophy hunt by a new BC government, however, was not driven by concerns of numerical sustainability of the hunt or bear populations (despite evidence of considerable uncertainty in management performance). Rather, the government realized that killing inedible species for trophy was no longer socially economically, and culturally sustainable. Poll data have long shown opposition to the hunt by most of BC society. Grizzly bears are also far more valuable economically as subjects of ecotourism than as targets of the trophy hunt. Additionally and importantly, the trophy hunt had contradicted Indigenous laws in coastal BC. In the traditional territory of First Nations (the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Wuikinuxv, and Nuxalk), historical and modern laws unequivocally ban the hunt. In this capacity, Coastal First Nations have led, and continue to lead, the way towards conservation and carnivore management. For these Nations, the laws that govern the closing of the trophy hunt are founded in relationships of reciprocity and respect with non-human animals. 

A GRIZZLY BEAR (URSUS ARCTOS) PEERS CURIOUSLY FORWARD, PAUSING IN THE PROCESS OF DEVOURING A SALMON. PHOTO CREDIT: PHILIP CHARLES.

Despite this game-changer for the lives of individual grizzly bears, the trophy hunt for other coastal carnivores remains open, and grizzlies and other bears are not secure from future changes to government policy. In the face of political uncertainty, bold ideas are required to safeguard these animals. One means to permanently protect coastal carnivores is through the purchase of commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest. By purchasing the trophy-hunting guide outfitter rightsto thousands of kilometres of land in the Great Bear Rainforest, Coastal First Nations and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation have joined forces to permanently extinguish opportunities for guided trophy hunting and respect First Nations sovereignty and authority in these large swaths of land. Simply, they are buying the rights to shoot coastal carnivores, but only shooting with cameras.

As a Conservation Scientist whose work occurs in partnership with coastal First Nations, I’m keenly aware of the scientific and cultural logic of conserving coastal carnivores. Having shared space and time with these animals, I’m also personally motivated to do what I can to help them thrive. I’ve now teamed up with colleagues to support fundraising efforts aimed towards the acquisition of hunting tenures and, thus, permanent closures to trophy hunting. I’m lucky to be surrounded by scientists willing to put in the extra mile (sometimes, literally) to apply our shared research and values.

As the golden grizzly club awakes from his après le diner slumber, he looks to the forest with concern. He’s listening for one of several giant grizzly males who may pose him harm. For now, however, the hardships he faces in the Great Bear Rainforest will not include the reach of the trophy hunt. With collective political will, continuation of conservation efforts, broader public education, and the tangible, permanent solutions generated through the conservation-oriented purchase of commercial hunting tenures, we may see him, and other coastal carnivores, permanently safe from the hunt.

THE SUN SETS SLOWLY ON A FOGGY EVENING NEAR THE KOEYE RIVER, DRAPING SEA-BIRDS SEEKING FORAGE FISH IN SHADES OF GOLD AND BLACK. PHOTO CREDIT: LAUREN ECKERT.

 

 

If you’d like to help permanently end hunting of wolves, bears, and other carnivores in the Great Bear Rainforest through purchasing vast tracts of hunting tenures, please consider donating to the buyout efforts.

This post originally appeared on the National Geographic Explorer’s Blog.

Broadening and Enriching the Conservation Conversation

This post originally appeared on the ACS lab web page 

 

As a graduate student, and perhaps particularly as a Ph.D. student, I am frequently reminded of the value of narrowing my focus. The advice is fitting; in the field of Applied Conservation Science, our scholarship is necessarily concentrated. Our diverse ecosystems, and the myriad ways humans understand and interact with them, are so complex as to require specific focus for deeper understanding.  And for our scholarly work to contribute to change in the real world requires a long-term concentration on these geographic, ecological, and social complexities.

I pose with my cohort of National Geographic Early Career Leaders: 15 of us, hailing from 11 different countries, speaking 25 languages and with unique disciplinary focuses.

But in the last several months, I’ve received unique opportunities to broaden my horizon of knowledge and conversations – and I’ve been fundamentally changed by the process. I’ve learned that my research questions, which seek to interweave Indigenous knowledge and ecological science towards improved conservation and upholding of Indigenous rights, are echoed across the globe and throughout many disciplines. The nuances, guidance, and new ideas that bubble to the surface through conversations with conservation scientists and social innovators working in Tibet, Bhutan, Arizona, or Tanzania have enriched my work in ways I couldn’t have imagined. For example, I have learned about community-driven work which aims to heal the relationship between Lions and herders in Kenya; about new virtual reality technologies which are allowing immersive experiences towards respecting and protecting disappearing languages; and about how long-standing local knowledge of the land is fueling a reversal of desertification of grasslands in Tibet.

It’s a mutually beneficial process; to travel is to recognize and draw upon the sources of your knowledge and experience, and the unique way you look at the world. To bring the practice of territorial acknowledgment to stages on the East Coast of the U.S., where they are rarely witnessed in the last decades, for example, was an important opportunity to share this process with a broader international audience.

Through interacting with scholars working all over the world, and particularly through formal mentorship programs afforded to me through the National Geographic Society, I now recognize impossibly important and oft-overlooked perspectives. The kaleidoscope of color these cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural conversations have painted over my understanding of our world and my research, the passion of the individuals I’ve met, and the collaboration opportunities that abound, give me hope that we together might achieve our conservation goals. I’m honoured and humbled to bring this wellspring of hope and new conversations back to our work on the Central Coast.

Plastic or Planet?

Today I pledged to reduce the single-use plastic in my life.

That means cloth shopping bags, homemade hummus, iced coffee in hipster mason jars, and skipping that convenient to-go sushi.

That also means continuing to pressure policy-makers for common-sense bans on superfluous plastics threatening ecological and social health.

Join me and choose our planet! #PlanetOrPlastic

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/plasticpledge/?beta=true

 

On the ACS Lab: Kid Conservationists and the Value of Outreach

This blog post first appeared on the Applied Conservation Science lab’s web page. Please find the original here.

 

A flourish of waving hands darts across my computer screen as I close my video chat window. The waves goodbye signal the end of my first virtual hangout with Ms. Michael’s fourth grade class. Based near Chicago, IL, the class is as diverse as they are enthusiastic. I smile with a mix of relief and newfound inspiration as I log out.

As applied conservation scientists, we’re increasingly called to share our research with a broad audience. Whether through blog posts, carefully curated social media feeds, or opinion editorial pieces, we seek to strengthen our communication skills and public awareness of our research. Despite my experiences in public outreach, however, I was totally intimidated to video-in to Ms. Michael’s class as part of my work with the National Geographic Leadership and Development Program.

As a scientist at the interface of Indigenous knowledge and ecological science, the concepts that inform and strengthen my research often seem complex. I hoped to give the 9- and 10-year-olds in the classroom a window into my world – of research in the Great Bear Rainforest, partnership with First Nations reasserting their traditional management rights, and the value of exploring many types of knowledge to inform conservation science.

The kids far exceeded my expectations, quickly calmed my nerves, and humbled me in the process. Through the lens of the charismatic Spirit Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), we explored habitat loss, pollution, Indigenous knowledge, cultural values, and our own solutions. The class took on complex topics such as invasive species and European colonization, and together we discussed opportunities to observe our own environments and practice developing our own “local ecological knowledge.” Perhaps most impactful was the consistent conservation ethic I witnessed beneath our conversation – the entire classroom understood the reality of resource limitations and the inherent importance of conserving the Spirit Bear, its home, and diverse human cultures.

The experience has solidified the incredible value of scientific outreach across populations and ages, and I am thrilled to continue the inspiring work. I have much more to learn from Ms. Michael’s class!