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40 The Wildlife Professional, July/August 2017 © The Wildlife Society
Credit: Bradly J. Boner, Jackson Hole Daily
In October 2013, a man taking part in a guided elk
hunt in Wyoming spotted a group of gray wolves
in the distance. They were within the state’s
predator management zone, where wolves may be
killed without a license, so after crawling to ap-
proach them, the hunter took aim and red. The shot
killed one of the wolves, and the hunter strapped the
carcass to the top of his SUV, drove to Jackson Hole’s
town square and parked downtown across from the
famed Cowboy Bar, according to a report in the local
newspaper, the Jackson Hole News and Guide.
The take was lawful, but the incident unleashed a re-
storm of angry responses on the newspaper’s opinion
page. Residents questioned not only the motivations
and morality of the hunter; they called into question
the legitimacy of the act as a form of hunting.
“This is what revenge looks like,” wrote wildlife
photographer Thomas Mangelsen in an opinion
column in the newspaper. “When people raise their
guns as an emotional expression of hatred toward a
species, it is not hunting,” he wrote.
Manglesen and the outraged residents of Wyoming
aren’t alone. Mounting evidence indicates that
societal views concerning our relationship with wild
— and domestic — animals have been changing.
They are moving away from a focus on using animals
solely as a means to promote human well-being to a
growing interest in the well-being of animals (Man-
fredo et al. 2003, Manfredo et al. 2009).
The rst inkling of this shift was noted more than
30 years ago in an analysis of news articles span-
ning seven decades. That analysis found evidence
of a long-term shift, which began following World
War I, away from concerns for the “practical and
material value of animals” (Kellert 1985). More
recent research suggests that societal views about
wildlife are turning toward an emphasis on greater
care and compassion for wild animals (Manfredo
et al. 2009).
This shift is reected in attitudes about the treat-
ment of so-called “nuisance” wildlife that damage
property or cause other economic harms. A recent
study indicates that while most Americans support
a landowner’s right to control nuisance wildlife,
they are increasingly skeptical about the means of
control (Slagle et al. 2017). The shift is also reected
in Gallup polling, which indicates the percentage
of Americans who believe animals have the “same
rights as people” increased from 25 to 32 percent
between 2008 and 2015.
Concerns of this nature are not limited to the United
States. In the early 1990s, the European Union
implemented a ban on leghold traps and other meth-
ods that do not meet agreed-upon humane trapping
standards (Council Regulation (EEC) No. 3254/91).
These examples, as well as others, suggest that the
values, beliefs and attitudes guiding societies’ rela-
tionships with the planet’s wildlife are in the midst
of profound change. We are expanding our moral
community to include animals, and we are increas-
ingly concerned for their welfare.
By Jeremy T. Bruskotter, John A. Vucetich and Michael Paul Nelson
Animal Rights and Wildlife Conservation
A passerby stops to
photograph a wolf carcass
strapped to the roof of
an SUV in Jackson Hole,
© The Wildlife Society
Wildlife conservation’s
philosophical roots
These changes are likely to challenge wildlife
conservation methods in North America, which
are strongly rooted in the traditions of hunting and
trapping. Nineteenth-century overexploitation,
including market hunting, led to severe declines of
numerous North American wildlife species (Dunlap
1991). Those declines helped catalyze a movement
during the early 20th century that emphasized
sustainable harvest of wildlife (Leopold 1933) —
exploiting a few species as much as society wanted
without infringing on future interests to do so
(Vucetich and Nelson 2010). This “hunter-centric”
model of wildlife conservation sought to produce
game animals to harvest (Geist et al. 2001). As Aldo
Leopold wrote early in his career, game manage-
ment was “the art of making land produce sustained
annual crops of wild game for recreational use
(Leopold 1933).”
This philosophy still guides wildlife management
today. Fundamentally anthropocentric and utilitar-
ian, it is rooted in the ideas that only humans possess
intrinsic value and that wildlife is a resource that
should be used to benet humans. Wildlife conserva-
tion’s commitment to these views is codied in the
Public Trust Doctrine — the common law notion that
underpins state governments’ authority over wildlife
in the United States and is present in some form in at
least 21 other countries (Treves et al. 2017).
The doctrine holds that wildlife is a public asset held
in trust by governments and managed on behalf of
citizen beneciaries (Freyfogle and Goble 2009). As
the U.S. Supreme Court concluded more than 100
years ago in the landmark case Geer v. Connecticut
(1896), the trustee-beneciary relationship between
a state and its citizens creates a duty “to enact such
laws as will best preserve the subject of the trust,
and secure its benecial use in the future.” Notably,
the case dealt with a defendant who transported
the carcasses of woodcock, ruffed grouse and quail
from one state to another. Ultimately, the court’s
decision hinged upon not whether wildlife was of
conservation value but whether wild animals could
be treated as an object of interstate commerce.
Geer illustrates a commitment to anthropocentrism
in U.S. conservation that continues to this day.
Indeed, management textbooks still depict the pur-
pose of wildlife management as producing “value”
or “impacts” desired by human stakeholders — so
long as their production does not infringe on our
ability to meet societal desires in the future (Decker
et al. 2012, Krausman and Cain III 2013).
Changing values challenge
our long-standing philosophy
As societal values shift, the public’s dissatisfaction
with wildlife agencies’ decision-making processes is
increasing. A growing number of ballot initiatives
and referenda seek to protect wild animals. Be-
tween 1940 and 1990, Americans approved just one
statewide ballot initiative that restricted the hunt-
ing or trapping of wildlife — a ban on dove hunting
in South Dakota, which was later repealed (Pacelle
1998). Since then, more than 50 state ballot mea-
sures have been initiated to protect the welfare of
wild and domestic animals. Most were bans on vari-
ous methods of hunting or trapping wildlife. More
than two-thirds (68 percent) were successful (The
Humane Society of the U.S. 2016). These numbers
support the notion that concern for wildlife welfare
is rising and people are frustrated with the tradi-
tional model of wildlife governance (Jacobson and
Decker 2008).
The lack of responsiveness by wildlife agencies to
animal welfare interests is not surprising. Wildlife
professionals often view conservation and animal
rights as antagonistic (Schmidt 1990, Muth and
Jamison 2000). The Wildlife Society’s standing
position statement, Animal Rights Philosophy
and Wildlife Conservation, describes the conict
between animal rights and wildlife conservation
as “profound.”
The authors found
that 37 percent of
respondents self-identified
as “conservationists”
and “animal rights
advocates.” Twenty-seven
percent self-identified as
“conservationists” and
“hunters.” Just 6 percent
self-identified only as
animal rights advocates;
just 8 percent only
identified as hunters. The
sampling protocol provides
for a margin of error of 2.7
percent at the 95 percent
confidence level. Figures
do not add to 100 percent
due to rounding error.
42 The Wildlife Professional, July/August 2017 © The Wildlife Society
Yet, that antagonistic view does not seem to be
shared by the general public — or even by most
self-identied conservationists, as the results of
our recent survey show. We polled more than
1,200 adults via KnowledgePanel, a representa-
tive online panel of U.S. residents recruited to take
part in survey research. We asked them to indicate
the extent to which they identied as hunters,
conservationists and animal rights advocates.
Although a plurality (37 percent) self-identied
as both conservationists and animal rights advo-
cates, far fewer (27 percent) self-identied as both
conservationists and hunters. Those identifying
as conservationists were more likely to identify as
animal rights advocates (r = 0.52) than as hunters
(r = 0.26).
These data suggest that, in contrast to its hunter-
centric origins, the U.S. conservation movement
today identies at least as much with animal rights
as with hunting. More than two-thirds (69 per-
cent) unequivocally endorsed the idea that wildlife
possess intrinsic value, an idea that runs counter
to anthropocentrism. To acknowledge the intrinsic
value of a living thing is to acknowledge an obliga-
tion to treat it with concern for its interests and
well-being (Vucetich et al. 2015).
Increased concern for animal welfare and wide-
spread acknowledgment that wildlife possesses
intrinsic value may be at odds with a vision of
wildlife conservation deeply rooted in public trust
thinking (Hare and Blossey 2014). The idea that
wildlife is merely a resource, an asset to be managed
to maximize human well-being, appears to leave
little room for considering its welfare. The conict is
liable to be acute because maximizing human ben-
ets is likely to come at a cost to the welfare of wild
animals (Simberloff 2013). Harvest practices such
as prairie-dog shoots, predator derbies and guided
trophy hunts that favor human recreation over
animal well-being are cases in point. Such practices
often catalyze public outrage and controversy. Wit-
ness the controversy generated by the recent killing
by an American trophy hunter of the African lion
known as Cecil (Nelson et al. 2016).
Yet, rising concern for the welfare of wildlife need
not translate into simple opposition to animal use or
traditional practices such as hunting. Rather, citizens
expect to see good reasons for why harming wild
animals is justied. Under anthropocentric thinking,
it is acceptable to exploit wildlife unless it is demon-
strated to be bad for humans. Unsustainable harvests,
for example, may deprive future generations of their
ability to hunt wildlife. Under
non-anthropocentric thinking, the
burden of proof shifts. Exploitation
is unacceptable unless adequate
reasons for it are provided.
Americans’ views about predator
management illustrate the implica-
tions of this shift. We found that
self-identied hunters, animal
rights advocates and conservation-
ists all tended to disagree with
the statement “predator control is
unacceptable.” Perhaps surpris-
ingly to wildlife professionals, only
25 percent of those who strongly
identify as animal rights advocates
agreed with that simple statement.
However, opposition to preda-
tor control may arise depending
on the context or the method
used. About half of animal rights
advocates, and even one in three
self-identied hunters, opposed
the removal of native preda-
tors that prey on threatened and
The authors
constructed groups by
pooling respondents
who self-identified
either “strongly” or
“very strongly” as
conservationists, animal
rights advocates or
hunters. Samples sizes
provided the following
margins of error:
conservationists, 5.3
percent; animal rights
advocates, 6.6 percent;
hunters, 6.6 percent, with
a 95% confidence level.
© The Wildlife Society
endangered species. This could have signicant
implications for the conservation of spotted owls
in the Pacic Northwest and caribou in southern
Alberta. All three groups tended to strongly oppose
the use of poison to control wildlife populations,
preferring non-lethal methods such as guard ani-
mals, scare devices and fertility control (Slagle et al.
2017). Such tendencies help explain why agencies
are experimenting with non-lethal methods even in
cases where lethal methods have been effective.
One nding in particular may provide a glimpse of
the future of wildlife conservation. Regardless of
their group identities, respondents had a widespread
tendency to acknowledge wildlife’s intrinsic value.
This was found among 69 percent of the general
population, and it was even higher among those who
strongly identied as hunters (79 percent), conser-
vationists (84 percent) and animal rights advocates
(87 percent). While these groups may understand
that acknowledgement in very different ways, non-
anthropocentrism appears to be an important point
of common ground (Vucetich et al. 2015).
The ndings suggest that policies that fail to
consider the welfare of wild animals will face
increasing public opposition. By angering most of
the people who call themselves “conservationists”
— people whose concern for wildlife extends to the
welfare of individual wild animals — such policies
could also undermine long-term efforts to broaden
the tent of conservation.
John A. Vucetich, PhD,
is a professor
in the School of Forest Resources and
Environmental Sciences at Michigan
Technological University.
Jeremy T. Bruskotter, PhD, is an
associate professor in the School of
Environment and Natural Resources at the
Ohio State University and past chair of the
Human Dimensions Working Group.
Michael Paul Nelson PhD, is a
professor in the Department of
Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon
State University.
... Questions about the field's relevance largely center on concerns about continued reliance on traditional uses of wildlife such as hunting and fishing, which remain the primary funding mechanism for state wildlife agencies (Williams, 2010). The dominant culture within these agencies reflects the field's historical origins, defined by strong utilitarian values emphasizing such uses (Bruskotter et al., 2017;Metcalf et al., 2020;Organ & Fritzell, 2000;Wildes, 1995). This culture has not only permeated wildlife-governing institutions over time but has also been central to university programs and professional societies that train and support wildlife agency personnel (Gill, 1996). ...
Full-text available
The future viability of wildlife conservation in the United States hinges on the field's ability to adapt to changing social–ecological conditions including shifting societal values and mounting pressures to engage a greater diversity of voices in decision‐making. As wildlife agencies respond to calls to broaden their relevance amid such changes, there is a need to consider the role of university education programs in preparing future wildlife professionals to meet the challenges of this new era. We identify four core areas of competency (technical, leadership, administrative, and adaptive) for universities to consider integrating into new or existing programs to support the emergent needs of the wildlife profession. We focus on undergraduate degree programs as a critical foundation for wildlife‐related careers but also recommend consideration of these skill sets in other areas of professional development including graduate education. Our approach acknowledges the importance of building on traditional areas of expertise such as biology and expanding them to include more interdisciplinary training in areas such as systems approaches, the social sciences, and organizational change. We conclude with recommendations for implementation, highlighting several successful examples, for universities to contemplate as they explore programmatic changes to help build greater capacity for wildlife conservation in the 21st century. We identify core areas of competency for universities to consider integrating into new or existing programs to support the emergent needs of the wildlife profession in the United States. By doing so, these programs will be better equipped to prepare the next generation of leaders, and ultimately the organizations that employ them, to address contemporary wildlife conservation challenges including societal change.
... As such, if one accepts the principle of ethical consistency, then acknowledging the intrinsic value of individual vertebrates is obligatory. The acknowledgement of intrinsic value in nonhuman nature does not emerge merely from ethical reasoning; it is also widely acknowledged around the world, as is reflected by sociological evidence (Pierce et al. 1987, Bruskotter et al. 2017, legal instruments (Chapron et al. 2019, Cretois et al. 2019, and religious tenets (Szűcs et al. 2012, Stewart 2014, Rahman 2017, Caruana 2020 of intrinsic value in another ought to affect one's treatment of that other (e.g., Taylor 1983, O'Neill 1992, Jamieson 2002, McDonald 2012, Sandler 2012. See also Maier (2012) for an incisive and wide-ranging account of different ways of valuing different aspects of biodiversity. ...
An important line of scholarship concludes that stemming the biodiversity crisis requires widespread nonanthropocentric modes of action and decision-making. In this regard, knowing what would even constitute a nonanthropocentric economic decision-making framework is hobbled by failing to recognize a conflation in the taxonomy of capital as supposed by traditional (anthropocentric) economics. We explain how natural capital (a basic category in anthropocentric economies) conflates natural capital without intrinsic value and natural capital with intrinsic value. Recognizing this conflation allowed us to identify instances of quantitative analyses that have elements of nonanthropocentrism but that seem not to have been previously recognized as such. We also explore inescapable consequences of recognizing this conflation, including the need to better understand how economic decision-making should take account for interspecies distributive justice and human well-being. That second need augments independent calls by economists and policy experts to take better account of human well-being.
... Another example of this kind of constraint involves the organization of societies that, for example, make it difficult to recycle even though such behavior is valued [51]. Other possible preventative circumstances are far more basic, such as economic insecurity ( [52], but see [44]), or the perceived risks of exhibiting pro-environmental behavior, such as the risk of losing livestock (an economic harm) to carnivores [53]. ...
Full-text available
Averting the biodiversity crisis requires closing a gap between how humans tend to behave, individually and collectively, and how we ought to behave—“ought to” in the sense of behaviors required to avert the biodiversity crisis. Closing that gap requires synthesizing insight from ethics with insights from social and behavioral sciences. This article contributes to that synthesis, which presents in several provocative hypotheses: (i) Lessening the biodiversity crisis requires promoting pro-conservation behavior among humans. Doing so requires better scientific understanding of how one’s sense of purpose in life affects conservation-relevant behaviors. Psychology and virtue-focused ethics indicate that behavior is importantly influenced by one’s purpose. However, conservation psychology has neglected inquiries on (a) the influence of one’s purpose (both the content and strength of one’s purpose) on conservation-related behaviors and (b) how to foster pro-conservation purposes; (ii) lessening the biodiversity crisis requires governance—the regulation of behavior by governments, markets or other organization through various means, including laws, norms, and power—to explicitly take conservation as one of its fundamental purposes and to do so across scales of human behaviors, from local communities to nations and corporations; (iii) lessening the biodiversity crisis requires intervention via governance to nudge human behavior in line with the purpose of conservation without undue infringement on other basic values. Aligning human behavior with conservation is inhibited by the underlying purpose of conservation being underspecified. Adequate specification of conservation’s purpose will require additional interdisciplinary research involving insights from ethics, social and behavioral sciences, and conservation biology.
... Particular stakeholder groups involved in wildlife management conflicts -such as hunters, farmers, conservationists, and animal rights advocates -possess strong social identities (Bruskotter et al., 2009(Bruskotter et al., , 2017van Eeden et al., 2019van Eeden et al., , 2020. Similar stakeholder groups -foresters, hunting tenants, conservationists -are important in the study area. ...
It has been recommended that wildlife management should be tailored to either wildlife value orientations (WVOs) or social identities (SIs) because both can influence stakeholders’ attitudes. However, a comparison of associations of WVOs and SIs with attitudes of stakeholders is lacking in the literature. We examined WVOs and attitudes toward red deer management among 834 individuals, encompassing foresters, hunting tenants, and conservationists (presumed to have strong SIs), as well as citizens, councilors, and forest owners (presumed to have weak SIs). Foresters’ and hunting tenants’ attitudes did not differ, despite the presence of different WVOs among each group, whereas conservationists’ attitudes partly and citizens,’ councilors’ and forest owners’ attitudes were strongly associated with different WVOs. Those with strong SIs should be addressed in terms of self-concepts and group processes. We recommend qualitative research on the SIs of stakeholders and quantitative research on the linkages of SIs and other social-psychological concepts.
... In addition to focusing on ecological wholes (e.g., populations, species), the postulates of conservation biology generally subordinate individual animals to human instrumental and ecological values (Callicott, 1997;Groom et al., 2007;Hutchins, 2008;Meffe and Carroll, 1997;Soulé, 1985). This is not from a lack of compassion for individual animals, but an embrace of (or resistance to) an ecocentric (ecosystems focused) interpretation of intrinsic value as a settled axiom of conservation with less ethical attention given to individual animals in conservation (Bekoff, 2013;Bruskotter et al., 2017;Orr, 2006;Santiago-Ávila et al., 2018;Soulé, 2014;Vucetich et al., 2015). The consequence we see today is that conservation biology and its ethics remain confused about whether we have responsibilities to individual organisms, how we should meet those responsibilities, and what an inheritance of evolutionary outcomes implies. ...
... What, then, do these findings suggest for the future of conservation? For conservation professionals in the United States, it is important to realize that a substantial portion of the public does not view wildlife through the same anthropocentric and utilitarian lenses prevalent during the early formative period of organizations that govern wildlife conservation 45 . While discourse about human-nature relationships has shifted 13 , the ideology of the wildlife profession 46 has been remarkably resilient to change. ...
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Global biodiversity loss is indicative of the massive influence of human activity that defines the Anthropocene. Some scholars argue that changes in behaviour at the scale necessary to address this crisis will require wholesale change in cultural values. However, evidence is lacking on whether values are shifting. To better understand this phenomenon, we analysed long-term, large-scale trend data regarding wildlife values in the United States, collected through a 19-state survey in 2004 (n = 12,673) and 2017–2018 (n = 20,674). Findings confirmed an increased endorsement of mutualism values (seeing wildlife as part of one’s social community and deserving of rights like humans) accompanied by a decline in values emphasizing domination (treating wildlife as resources to be used for human benefit), a trend further visible in cross-generational cohort analysis. We also found strong associations between state-level values and trends in urbanization, connecting the shift to macro-level socioeconomic factors. Results suggest positive outcomes for conservation but the field’s ability to adapt will be critical to realizing those outcomes.
... That is, the old conservation methods should be altered to accommodate new public values and demands (e.g. see Bruskotter et al., 2017;van Eeden et al., 2017). ...
Full-text available
1. Ethical concerns are at the heart of the ongoing debate on trophy hunting; however, so far, most studies have addressed the issue from a single ethical perspective. These studies, approaching the subject from different ethical perspectives, have reached different conclusions. For instance, those who support trophy hunting as a conservation strategy usually adopt a utilitarian perspective, while those who adopt a deontological perspective usually oppose it. 2. The analysis presented in this paper challenges the ethical justification of trophy hunting based on a utilitarian perspective, and it also suggests that trophy hunting is problematic from the perspectives of both deontology and virtue theory. 3. This paper supports a version of Bryan Norton's ‘convergence hypothesis’ (Norton, 1991). Although holism and anthropocentrism in environmental ethics are usually presented as fundamentally opposed views, Norton argued that their conclusions for policy converge, at least when a sufficiently broad and long-range view of human interests are considered. 4. Analogously, this paper proposes that, regarding trophy hunting, the implications of three major traditional perspectives in ethics (i.e. utilitarianism, deontology and virtue theory) may converge in opposition to the practice of trophy hunting. 5. The final section of this paper recommends some ways authorities and policymakers can address these ethical concerns and presents a view of the future.
Over fifty years of global conservation has failed to bend the curve of biodiversity loss, so we need to transform the ways we govern biodiversity. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity aims to develop and implement a transformative framework for the coming decades. However, the question of what transformative biodiversity governance entails and how it can be implemented is complex. This book argues that transformative biodiversity governance means prioritizing ecocentric, compassionate and just sustainable development. This involves implementing five governance approaches - integrative, inclusive, adaptive, transdisciplinary and anticipatory governance - in conjunction and focused on the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and unsustainability. Transforming Biodiversity Governance is an invaluable source for academics, policy makers and practitioners working in biodiversity and sustainability governance. This is one of a series of publications associated with the Earth System Governance Project. For more publications, see This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
Debates among scholars reveal rifts in the conservation community concerning the purposes of conservation that might be explained by shifting public values. We examined mission statements of 50-state fish and wildlife agencies in the U.S. to determine how agencies articulate conservation goals. Agency mission statements often expressed multiple goals, both human (e.g., development) and wildlife (e.g., preservation) focused. Results indicated that as the proportion of mutualists within a state’s citizenry increased, mission statements were less likely to cite economic use, and the provisioning of recreational opportunities as goals, and more likely to express the idea that nature/wildlife is a beneficiary. A separate analysis of agency decision-making bodies indicated these bodies were predominately occupied by men and sportspersons. Given the tendency of men and sportspersons to align with domination value orientations, the composition of agency decision-making bodies may prevent adoption of goals that reflect broader changes in societal values.
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