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Conservation Biologists and the Representation of At-Risk Species: Navigating Ethical Tensions in an Evolving Discipline

Stuart, Diana, Rizzolo, Jessica Bell
Journal of agricultural & environmental ethics 2019 v.32 no.2 pp. 219-238
advocacy, biologists, ethics, extinction, interviews, social benefit, wildlife management
Conservation biology is a discipline with the explicit goal of protecting species from extinction. We examine how conservation biologists represent at-risk species, how they navigate values and ethical tensions in the discipline, and how they might be more effective in reaching conservation goals. While these topics are discussed in the literature, we offer a unique empirical examination of how individuals perceive and perform conservation work. We conducted 29 interviews with conservation biologists and found that most respondents viewed their work as providing information but also felt that other species have intrinsic value and we should extend our ethical standards to include other species. However, many attempted to separate science from values, and some felt it was necessary to hide their values and ethical positions and avoid advocacy. While conservation biologists navigate these tensions differently, those who engage in advocacy will likely be more effective in reaching conservation goals. Current societal values and views on ethical extension, rather than a lack of science, represent the most significant impediment to addressing the extinction crisis.