Conservation Biologists, Civic Science and the Preservation of BC Forests

By Krajnc, Anita | Journal of Canadian Studies, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Conservation Biologists, Civic Science and the Preservation of BC Forests


Krajnc, Anita, Journal of Canadian Studies


This essay assesses the role conservation biologists play inside and outside government in efforts to protect British Columbia's ancient rain-forest ecosystems. An epistemic community of government-entrenched conservation biologists has largely been absent or ad hoc, playing a negligible role in conservation. The Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel is a partial exception, with the important advisory role it played to the BC government regarding sustainable forest management in the region. Instead, a mission-oriented, transnational "civic" scientific community has emerged around the Y2Y Conservation Initiative, Conservation Area Design plans for the BC's coastal rain forests and efforts to promote a meaningful Species at Risk Act at the federal level. A transnational advocacy network of Canadian and American conservation biologists is using "civic science" in concert with environmental organizations to develop and implement a vision of ecosystem-based land-use planning and species protection, and this provides valuable lessons on the potential and limits of scientific power in civil society as well as government institutions.

Cet article evalue le role que les biologistes de la conservation jouent a l'interieur et a l'exterieur du gouvernement pour proteger les ecosystemes anciens des forets tropicales humides de la Colombie-Britannique. Un regroupement epistemique de biologistes de la conservation au sein du gouvernement n'a pas vraiment ete present ou dependait des circonstances et jouait un role peu important dans la conservation. Le Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel est une exception partielle et le role consultatif important revient au gouvernement de la Colombie-Britannique en ce qui concerne la gestion forestiere durable dans la region. Une communaute scientifique civique et transnationale, orientee vers un but precis, a vu le jour par rapport a l'initiative sur la conservation Y2Y, aux plans de conception des zones de conservation pour les forets tropicales humides de la cote de la Colombie-Britannique et aux efforts devoues pour promouvoir une loi efficace sur les especes en peril a l'echelon federal. Un reseau de protection transnational forme de biologistes de la conservation canadiens et americains utilise un concept de " science civique " ainsi que des organismes environnementaux pour elaborer et mettre en oeuvre une vision de la planification d'amenagement du territoire axee sur les ecosystemes et de la protection des especes. Ceci fournit des lecons importantes sur les possibilites et les limites des pouvoirs de la science dans une societe civique ainsi que dans les institutions gouvernementales.

Conservation biology has been denned as "doing science and practicing conservation" (Wilcox). What distinguishes conservation biology from older conservation fields is its crisis outlook, its mission-oriented mandate and its multi-disciplinary scope. There is a strong sense that the biological diversity crisis will "reach a crescendo in the first half of the twenty-first century" mainly due to human impacts on habitat (Soule). For example, only one fifth of the world's original forest cover remains in large, relatively natural ecosystems (Bryant). Half the world's states have lost all their old-growth forests, while three countries - Russia, Canada and Brazil - house nearly 70% of the world's large intact pristine forests. The mission of conservation biologists is to preserve sustainable assemblages of as much of the earth's biodiversity as possible in the context of these looming crises of global habitat loss and mass extinction. Michael Soule, one of the founders of the field, has referred to conservation biologists as "physicians to nature" ("What is Conservation"). Just as a physician's goal is preserving human health, so a conservation biologist must take an active role in preserving the health of the biosphere.

There are, of course, those who eschew the role of advocacy for scientists. Robert T. …

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