From Bison to Boardrooms
by Caroline Lupfer Kurtz
To date, however, no proposed wildlife management project has systematically considered the ethical implications of such actions, using criteria developed for other research circumstances.
According to Deni Elliott, director of UMs Practical Ethics Center, Wildlife manipulation constitutes an experiment, but we dont use the same idea of informed consent as we do in medical research, for example.
In Elliotts view, human beings as well as animals are subjects in wildlife management experiments, yet the protocols developed for other types of research involving humans and animals have never been applied in this arena. She says that the environmental impact statements required before a project can be implemented usually are heavily influenced by science or politics and do not satisfy the people most affected by the plan local residents.
Neither of these things [science or advocacy] really reflects the concerns of the people most directly impacted by a wildlife project, she says. This is a frustrating situation for everybody.
To address this, Elliott, forestry doctoral student Peggy Shunick, education Professor Rita Sommers-Flanagan and Missoula psychologist Marianne Spitzform are seeking funding from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a multiyear study of the Yellowstone Bison Management Plan. The researchers hope to give neighboring residents and others most affected by the plan a chance to have their real concerns regarding themselves and the animals heard.
Through such surveys Shunick expects to learn about the various ways people value wildlife and how they arrive at these views, whether they feel safe or threatened by the animals in question, and whether they consider themselves victims or beneficiaries of management plans.
As a complement to this study, a further application is being made to the National Science Foundation for funding to consider the animal welfare side of things. The decisions made in wildlife management, Shunick says, do not necessarily consider whats best for individual animals.
A plan to reintroduce lynx in Colorado, for example, estimated half the number would die of starvation in the first year. Her research, which already has been promised support from the International Foundation for Ethical Research, could help determine whether research protocol like this is ethically sound or not.
A core focus
Since 1996 the Practical Ethics Center has been a bridge between the University and the community to help people deal with ethical questions and decisions that arise in whatever their chosen field. Science, health care, business, academia, government, law, media, social services the center helps people reflect critically about the ethical dimensions of their work and provides training in the conceptual framework needed to articulate concerns and engage in meaningful discussions of ethical problems.
Real people deal with important ethical issues in their public lives all the time, Elliott says, adding that UM is the nations lab school for teaching ethics.
Thanks to the efforts of a number of faculty members, particularly in the history and philosophy departments, ethics and human values has been one of the six focus areas of the University curriculum and part of the general education requirement for undergraduates for the past 16 years. Three years ago UM became the first school in the nation to offer a graduate degree and professional training program in teaching ethics.
The attention paid to ethics and the teaching of ethics at UM is unlike any other secular institution in the country, says Elliott, who was the founding director of the ethics institute at Dartmouth College before coming to Montana.
Forty-two courses are part of the ethics and human values focus, and 50 faculty members about 10 percent of the total consider themselves to be engaged in research on or the teaching of ethics in their courses. No surprise, then, that UM will be among the dozen campuses participating in a study of ethics in academia sponsored by Duke University and scheduled to begin this fall.
Completing the circle
Elliott herself leads intensive workshops for elementary and secondary school teachers who want to include ethics instruction in their classes. She also provides ethics training and oversight for professionals in other fields and consults nationally on the development of ethics committees in hospitals, newsrooms, universities and corporations.
Now she is eager to add environmental ethics to the mix of ongoing initiatives at the center.
For too long we have separated people from our natural environment, she says. Its important that people see themselves as just part of a group of important considerations when we talk about the environment.
This set of projects [on ethics in wildlife management] is all new ground. It
makes sense to do it here, where so much work is already being done in wildlife biology,
forestry, conservation and ethics.