“The word advocacy gets a bad rap,” in the science community, says Adrian Treves, IWCN Coexistence Council member, founder and director of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab and professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We all need to be advocates for good science and good governance.  I have to be a good advocate for better science and for the public interest.”

Adrian’s early work with wolves, in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) focused on human-carnivore conflict. As he dug into DNR wolf records he became fascinated by both sides of the issue: the human story of coexisting or living near wolves and the glimpses of wolves lives as they live beside people and domestic animals, farm animals and hunting hounds. For more than a decade, “I was firmly allied to the state policy on wolves, which included some implicit value judgements that I never questioned.”

“Wildlife managers, in general, look at population viability and sustainability and have a very pro-hunting, utilitarian view of animals. In this context, wolves are often viewed negatively, as predators of the more valued species, like deer.” But as a conservation biologist, Adrian was raised with a worldview that extinction is bad, biodiversity is good, ecosystem health is good, and top predators play super important roles in the ecosystem. “So wolves are viewed more positively by the average conservation biologist,” says Adrian. 

As he opened his mind to other philosophies, Adrian found himself questioning the state policy on wolves. He wondered, “First and foremost, should we really be talking only about human-wildlife conflict, or should we be talking about conflict and coexistence, or maybe just coexistence, with conflict being a symptom but not the overriding feature.”

Adrian has been very influenced by the public trust doctrine, which basically says that governments have a trustee duty to preserve wildlife for future generations and to regulate the use of wildlife by current generations to avoid substantial impairment of that legacy. 

So when he dug deeper into his research and discovered that Wisconsin was misleading the public about wolf mortality events, he knew he had to speak out. “The state as a trustee cannot be lying to the public. This is a clear breach of fiduciary duty; it’s unlawful; and by suppressing better science, is further violating its trust responsibilities.”  

Adrian believes that “political expediency is ruling the day, on the state and federal level. There is undue political influence on the scientists and the agencies. Many of the scientists are doing their best but they are so vulnerable to their political superiors. Until that ends, until the administration stands up for what’s right, ethically and morally, we are not going to see reform quickly.”

“Until our statutes, regulations and institutions are reformed, it’s going to be hard for every generation to make positive change,” says Adrian. “The change we need is for humans to stop damaging ecosystems and stop taking more than we actually need. To stop killing as if it were conservation, that’s a complete myth.”

“Anthropocentrism is one of our greatest challenges world-wide. The idea that humans are at the center of everything and we have dominion over the planet. This is such an ancient idea but wildlife science is particularly riddled with it.” 

Adrian believes that science is shifting. “It’s no longer saying that it is all about populations. The science and the ethics are converging, but wildlife agencies are digging in their heels and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that the ground is shifting under them. New ethics are coming to the fore. It’s sad to be so rigid. It’s not a characteristic of individuals, it is a characteristic of institutions. It takes bravery to speak up.” 

When people hear a non-anthropocentric view, they embrace it. As soon as someone explains that we are just another unique species and have no right to destroy the world and wildlife,  people embrace a less anthropocentric view. They can see that nonhumans are part of our community and we do owe a debt to future generations not to spoil things around us. That philosophy leads to much more tolerance to wildlife that might be a nuisance – but does not give us a right to kill them.”  

Adrian notes that we have ignored the lessons taught by the iconic Jane Goodall in the 1960-70s. Goodall’s research on chimpanzees told us their life stories. She named the chimps, she lived close to the chimps, and she understood them not only as a species, but also as individuals with emotions and long term bonds. 

“I have a lot of faith in the next generation. They are more compassionate, more mutualistic, seeing animals as part of their community. And the US public overwhelmingly feels this way, even about wolves. So I am hopeful about future change,” says Adrian. 

In the meantime, he will continue to be true to his science, preach the facts and help pave the way for a new paradigm in wildlife management that values all species, not just game animals; that protects wildlife and ecosystems for future generations; and respects the interest of individual animals.  






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