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.
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. 💕💪🌎
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 tothebuyout efforts.
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.
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.
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!
This week, collaborative work led by Dr. Natalie Ban and the Central Coast First Nations via the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance (CCIRA) was spotlighted by the University of Victoria! Check out the fantastic coverage of the work here.