The Importance and Influence of the Human Dimensions in Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos) Conservation

  • Author / Creator
    Hughes, Courtney
  • Conservation practitioners increasingly recognize the importance and influence of the social context in conservation outcomes. From local stories to newsprint articles, the language we use, the stories we tell, and the interactions we have with wildlife species can influence human relationships with them. This is particularly true for carnivore species, including bears, which hold a special place in human hearts and imagination, and lived experience. Throughout history and across their geographic range, different bear species have been portrayed and valued for their beauty, power, spiritual connection, ecological significance and kinship values. Bears have also been disliked and feared for their ferocity, and reviled for the negative economic impacts or safety risks they can inflict on people. The depiction of bears across different cultural contexts undoubtedly influences peoples’ proclivity to support conservation action. This dissertation attempts to understand why human relationships with bears, specifically grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) have been positioned as they are, from like to dislike, love to hate, and what this means for their management. I first discuss the rationale and framing for my research, from a conservation science perspective and specifically human dimensions of wildlife. I also discuss why I am personally interested in this field, and my positionality in this research. I then introduce my theoretical perspective, informed by social constructionism, wildlife value orientations, wildlife attitude typology, and primarily qualitative methodology. I also provide orientation to the context of this study, from an overview of grizzly bear status and conservation across their global range, and narrowing to the Alberta, Canada’s endangered species policy context. Then I present a review of stories about bears, from myth and legend, folklore and traditional practices using available English-language literature that helps illustrate how the stories we tell about bears play a role in shaping human proclivity to conservation policy and action. Following this I use media content analysis to analyze newsprint media stories from across grizzly bears’ (Ursus arctos) western North American range to determine how messages are framed for grizzly bears and their conservation, and the relative attention given to these stories, to infer how this might influence a readerships’ views on grizzly bears and their conservation. I continue to narrow my focus on grizzly bears to Alberta, Canada’s recovery policy context. I use qualitative semi-structured interviews and the policy sciences framework to elicit data on and explain the social context of this policy issue. This work helps to demonstrate that the human dimensions of bear or wildlife conservation go beyond the more common assessments of proximate attitudes by examining issues inherent in what makes conservation policy problematic. Lastly using the same data generated from I uncover the persistent policy problems in grizzly bear recovery, further demonstrating that ongoing controversy and tension across multiple stakeholders will continue to limit conservation achievements unless problems are addressed. Results of this work have both practical and theoretic application, locally and broadly, including the utility of qualitative inquiry in human dimensions of wildlife studies and in eliciting data for use in policy sciences analysis. I highlight the necessity of eliciting people’s perceptions, values, and experiences with carnivores to better understand their goals, expectations, and practices in a conservation context, and identify the importance of clarifying problems in conservation policy to improve its design, governance, and implementation. I also demonstrate the utility of media content analysis, specifically in understanding the role of framing and attention cycle in representations of wildlife species and what outcomes this may have for human constructions of species, and conservation attitudes. Additionally, this work helps reinforce the importance of conservation practitioners proactively engaging in storytelling, such as through media outlets, to help craft effective messaging and in hopes encourage a stewardship ethic.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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