Ethics and Barred Owls in Conservation Magazine

Warren Cornwall has written an excellent article on the ethics of managing barred owls for Conservation magazine — There Will Be Blood.

The article focuses on the moral conundrum of choosing the flourishing of a species over the well being of individual animals. The ethical questions of whether to kill barred owls for the benefit of spotted owls, whether as an experiment or a policy, has centred on just this issue. Cornwall assembles some excellent data and graphics to show just how often we kill wildlife in the pursuit of conservation, then uses the killing barred owls for the benefit of spotted owls as a means of entering a larger debate.

Of particular interest to me is the oft repeated claim that killing for conservation is a matter of science, not politics or ethics. This is an old dodge used to avoid the difficulties of moral debate in conservation. But it is also representative of an ethical positions in and off itself known variously as human exceptionalism, anthropocentrism or speciesism. Its basically the idea that we humans are the only creatures on the planet to have moral value, and are thus entitled to use and abuse other creatures and living systems as we see fit.

Like with Groc’s article and video in National Geographic, I highly recommend this article on its own, as well as an example of how complex ethical ideas inform seemingly straightforward everyday policy debates.

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