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Is there a disconnect?

The following is an excerpt from a report about the effectiveness of the BC Bear Smart Community Program by Crystal McMillan. It reveals some very important, and often overlooked issues. First of all, people have lost their connectedness to the ecosystem. They see themselves as “being above the ecosystem and not part of it.” This disconnect between people and their natural environment and the wild animals they share it with has caused a general lack of empathy which has lead to an unwillingness to protect them. We must find ways to reconnect people to the animals we share the planet with, before we can expect them to do their part to save them.

Read McMillan’s concluding remarks:

Canada’s history would indicate that the original pioneers settling here were faced with large carnivores that generated enormous fear. The solution was to destroy the animal. This mindset forms the basis of the Conservation Officer Service’s historical response. Canada continued to attract more and more settlers, very few of whom had previous experience of co-existence with such large carnivores. Western culture through religion and agriculture promotes a mindset of dominion over animals both domestic and wild. This mindset continues to this day with even so-called defenders of wildlife seeing themselves as above the ecosystem, not part of it. Historically, this mindset has led humans to protect certain animals – i.e., livestock – and destroy those that threaten themselves or the protected animals. This behaviour is common with many animals as well. This mindset followed the first European settlers to Canada and has persisted as part of the culture ever since. A cultural trend has been growing over the past 40 years for individuals to abdicate their personal responsibility for both the effects of their actions and the solutions to the problems caused by those actions. This cultural trend is prevalent throughout Western civilizations and has impacted on how individuals manage their own conflict with wildlife. Most people expect somebody else to solve their problems – in this case, conflict with bears.

Evidence shows that the “effects” are the obvious symptoms that indicate there is a problem, and that the “cause” is the underlying system that is most responsible for generating the symptoms, and which if recognized, could lead to changes, producing lasting improvement (Senge, 2006). The results of this study indicate that the absence of a “shared vision” is the “cause” responsible for generating the symptoms (human-bear conflicts). Millions of dollars and much time and effort have been expended in addressing the symptoms or “effects” of the problem, while simultaneously creating new forms of tension and disharmony within the management agencies. The “cause” of human-bear conflict is at the root of the human value system, with the effect or symptom becoming evident at the point of interaction between humans and bears (conflict).

Taking this analysis one step further, I would suggest that it is not enough to say that people care about bears, or that municipalities need to take on the responsibility. I would also suggest that representatives from within the provincial government harness the powers that are already there out in these communities and become leaders as stewards in the province. Egan (1985) most aptly stated some basics of a theory of transformative leadership by describing clearly what a Transformational Leader does:

Transformational Leaders are shapers of values, creator, interpreters of institutional purpose, exemplars, makers of meaning, pathfinders, and molders of organizational culture. They are persistent and consistent. Their vision is so compelling that they know what they want from every interaction. Their visions don’t blind others, but empower them. Such leaders have a deep sense of the purpose for the system and a long-range strategic sense and these provide a sense of overall direction. They also know what kind of culture, in terms of beliefs, values, and norms, the system must develop [if] it is to achieve that purpose. By stimulating, modeling, advocating, innovating, and motivating, they mold this culture, to the degree that this is possible, to meet both internal and environmental needs. (p. 204)

This research study has shown that there is enormous willingness and commitment province-wide among the general population, municipalities, nongovernment organizations, professional bear managers, and Ministry of Environment and Conservation Officer Service personnel to address the issues identified. Pooling these combined powers can help to achieve the intended vision of effectively reducing human-bear conflict in the province.

To read the full report, click here.