WAI researchers Jane Capozzelli and Luke Hecht and collaborator Dr. Samniqueka Halsey published an article exploring the potential for synergy between restoration ecology and wild animal welfare research in the March 2020 issue of Restoration Ecology.
Why discuss wild animal welfare in restoration ecology?
Research and outreach disrupts status quo narratives, such as the perception that wild animal welfare and environmental management must operate under mutually-exclusive values, metrics, or models. Writing peer-reviewed articles in environmental science journals builds a common academic language to address environmental problems. It also catalyzes interdisciplinary thinking by considering pluralistic, alternative ethics of environmental stewardship. These two steps both bring us closer to generating solutions for improving the lives of wild animals.
Our overall thinking is that proponents of wild animal welfare and restoration ecology share, to some extent, a non-anthropocentric worldview and a desire to collaborate to help wild animals. Yet the virtues and consequences of “respect and responsibility for wild animals” are viewed through a different lens by ecologists and proponents of wild animal welfare.
The research in a nutshell
To build common ground toward solutions for improving the lives of wild animals, we provided a window into the animal welfare community for restoration ecologists, particularly wild animal welfare’s ethical positions and research priorities. We also acknowledged that people may differentially prioritize welfare- and conservation-oriented objectives. Yet, wild animal welfare is relevant, regardless, because of the instrumental value of providing for the needs of individual animals.
To further frame our argument around animal ethics and morality, we blended our instrumental arguments around the moral foundations of conservation ethics, established in Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. We highlighted that the land ethic includes moral concern for individual, “fellow-members” of the landscape. Despite the value the land ethic places on animals, the management community has not resolved how to support individual animals while maintaining their ecosystem. It also does not sufficiently account for diverse ethical perspectives regarding what constitutes good environmental stewardship, nor take advantage of the information-value of animal welfare, as animal well-being depends on a host of behavioral, physiological, and environmental factors.
Our manuscript illustrates three ways that the perspective of wild animal welfare augments restoration ecology.
Strengthening relationships between people and nonhuman animals. Restoration ecology could engage with wild animal welfare to advance a human-nature relationship infused with empathy and altruism.
Supporting multidimensional ecosystem health. It is possible to simultaneously improve ecosystem function and animals’ well-being. Synergistic interventions would concurrently support individuals and ecosystems, with the added benefit of encompassing multiple ethical and moral stances regarding what is good environmental stewardship.
Reducing uncertainty about interventions. Several aspects of animal welfare, such as health, physiology, behavior, and cognition, can modify species, communities, and ecosystems. A greater understanding of these relationships can reduce uncertainty regarding the outcomes of interventions for wildlife collectives or individuals.
An essential challenge ties together proponents of environmental management and wild animal welfare: resolving ethical and ecological conflicts on an increasingly complex and interconnected planet. The challenge for the wild animal welfare movement is to illustrate the ways that wild animal welfare is important and viable. Future work on these topics continues at Wild Animal Initiative to reorient animal advocacy and environmental science with a view of wild animals as morally-relevant subjects, who are entitled to a good life, and to catalyze evidence-based solutions for modern environmental problems on behalf of wild animals.