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Local and regional-scale societal dynamics in grizzly bear conservation

Clark, Douglas Andrew





Conserving grizzly bear populations is a significant challenge for wildlife managers throughout North America. Much fruitful research has been conducted on the biology of grizzlies, but the human dimensions of bear management remain poorly understood. This imbalance has created conflicts between management agencies and local inhabitants that can jeopardize ecosystem management and planning programs in which grizzlies often feature as key components. Broadly, the goal of this study was to understand how and why such conflicts occur. Qualitative data analysis methods and the policy sciences' interdisciplinary problem analysis framework, along with insights from adaptive governance and co-management concepts, resilience theory, and political ecology, were used to analyze and compare four case studies of grizzly bear management in Canada (the Foothills Model Forest, Alberta; Kluane region, Yukon; the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Northwest Territories and Yukon; Baker Lake, Nunavut). A coordinated, regional ecosystem-scale approach that aims to preserve habitat in large wilderness areas and limit grizzly bear mortality is the prevailing conservation paradigm for grizzlies and other large mammals. Originating in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA, this paradigm is demonstrably vulnerable to failure when applied elsewhere. In the Foothills Model Forest, an ambitious, well-funded, and collaborative regional conservation program was unable to implement any of its research findings and was prematurely terminated. In the southwest Yukon, an interjurisdictional conservation planning process for grizzly bears was effectively cancelled by co-management partners who had no faith in Kluane National Park's extensive ecological research on grizzlies, and felt that an inaccurate and inappropriate problem definition was being forced on them. Small-scale, community-based initiatives are often promoted as an alternative to traditional state wildlife conservation approaches but they face many challenges and this avenue offers no guarantee of immediate success. For remote communities in particular, horizontal and vertical institutional connections are difficult to establish, yet they are important for facilitating learning and the integration of information. Events in Baker Lake, Nunavut, showed that without such connections local peoples' often-substantial traditional ecological knowledge cannot be integrated effectively into decision processes. In the Inuvialuit Settlement Region the quota system for grizzly bear harvests has been able to successfully incorporate both scientific and traditional knowledge in large part because of its cross-scale institutional network. These latter two cases demonstrate a commonly-held vision for adaptive co-management of bear-human systems. As observed in Baker Lake, the evolution of adaptive co-management can apparently be driven by grizzly bear-human conflicts; focusing events which can transform bear-human systems that have low resilience. The leadership provided by individual champions was also an important determinant of case study outcomes. A key element in the three northern case studies is Aboriginal peoples' concept of respect for bears—which is fundamentally different from western views, despite the widespread assumption by non-Aboriginal resource managers that they don't differ. Rooted in a holistic epistemology that emphasizes human kinship with all other living things, practices of respect can be grouped into four categories: terminology, stories, reciprocity, and ritual. In the southwest Yukon, practices in all four categories form a coherent qualitative resource management system that appears to enhance the resilience of the bear-human system as a whole. This system also demonstrates the possibility of a previously-unrecognized human role in maintaining productive riparian ecosystems and salmon runs. Case study findings point toward an alternative paradigm for grizzly bear conservation, that of "respectful coexistence". To achieve respectful coexistence, conventional "bear m nagement" must be re-defined as coping within social-ecological systems—rather than controlling them—with the aim of building resilience in bear-human systems. Local-scale communicative and adaptive governance institutions will be required, and they must make use of multiple information sources. The primary focus of these adaptive institutions should be on localized, place-based relationships between people and bears, but they must also recognize cross-scale connections among bear-human system elements. Finally, there is a need to determine the limits to the application of respectful coexistence: it must be clearly recognized that this approach will not lead to a utopian coexistence between bears and humans, nor is it intended to. I offer recommendations for implementing respectful coexistence practices in the contexts of the four case studies, and I consider their broader implications for national parks, Aboriginal governance institutions, boundary institutions, and the scientific community. These recommendations provide ideas and arguments that can be used to advance governance practices where the status quo is failing to conserve grizzlies in ways consistent with the social and cultural values of people affected by such policies.

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