Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cecil the Lion, Grizzly Bears and Conservation

The killing of Cecil the Lion and the questions the act has raised in the public and among the conservation community particularly, have faded from the headlines.  However, during the height of the debate that raged immediately after Cecil's death I read an editorial in a local (Wyoming) newspaper that has stuck with me over the last few weeks.
Cecil the Lion
Photo from Time.com

The author, an outfitter who makes a living by guiding hunters to big and trophy game, presented a compelling argument that directly tied together the death of Cecil the Lion and his profession.  He noted that hunters and outfitters are salivating for the de-listing of the grizzly bear from the auspices of the Endangered Species Act here in my native Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in order to hunt the species.  He then went on to articulate the economic value of grizzly bears alive as compared to the money generated from a potential trophy hunt for the species.

In his editorial the outfitter confronted head-on the question of whether or not conservation of rare or endangered animals are greatly benefited  through hunting- his conclusion was a resounding no.  As the author noted, millions of dollars are generated as a result of tourist coming to Yellowstone just of an opportunity to see a grizzly bear and potential take a picture.  For literally millions of people such a chance is a bucket-list opportunity.

Grizzly Bear
Photo from U.S. National Park Service
There is no doubt that sportmen and women contribute to conservation and contribute mightily. Whether it's through license fees or taxes collected on sporting goods- taxes that we've gone to the mat to ensure they are maintained- hunters and anglers put their money where their mouth's are.  But, we must never lose sight that hunting and angling are guided by a code of ethics and that code is undermined when poor choices and outcomes are glossed over with a disingenuous claim that killing an animal provides a net benefit to conservation of the species. This is particularly true of species with low numbers that are either endangered or on the cusp of becoming endangered.

I thought about Cecil and grizzly bears as I followed a trail this weekend in the Cloud Peak Wilderness of Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains. I thought about the ethics of angling and how time has shaped our fishing attitude from "keeping your limit" to "limiting your keep" that, in turn, has produced today's catch-and-release ethic.  While angling rarely suffers the limelight that comes with the hunting and killing of a rare or endangered mammal, the death of Cecil the Lion provides us a moment to consider both the ethics that has become a central part of fly fishing as well as how we want our sport to be viewed by the non-angling public.

You can also find my discussions on fly fishing and conservation issues at-
Twitter- @conservationfly
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing

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