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"Walking on Two Legs: Shared Decision Making in Wildlife Management"

The College of Applied Biology (CAB) is the regulating body of Registered Professional Biologists in British Columbia. Every year, CAB hosts a two-day annual general meeting & conference that offers professional development and networking opportunity for registrants. This year's conference, "The path forward: Resilience, Reconciliation, and Reserved Practice", was hosted on April 7th and 8th, 2022 at the Delta Ocean Pointe Hotel, located on the beautiful inner harbour of Victoria, BC.

As a speaker, I was able to attend the entire conference and it was an absolute joy. Everything exceeded my expectations - from the networking to learning from other speakers, to the excellent food & coffee, to the venue. It's challenging to find the words to adequately thank the CAB for this opportunity, but I'd like to offer my sincerest gratitude to all the staff and organizers.

Being invited to speak at a large professional conference marks a significant milestone in my career and was a humbling and uplifting experience. I was part of a three-person panel, providing a technical session titled "Walking on Two Legs: Shared Decision Making in Wildlife Management". It was an honour and a privilege to stand next to two incredibly accomplished colleagues, Dennis Paradine and Hunter Lampreau, in front of a room full of Professional Biologists, Foresters, Engineers, and others, and offer my stories and reflections.

We each gave 10-minute individual, but complementary, presentations before opening the floor to the audience for questions and reflections. Dennis, Area Manager of Policy & Legislation for the Province, set the stage with an update on recent/upcoming changes to the Wildlife Act and some of the work being done around the Together for Wildlife Strategy. He essentially described the Province's approach to shared decision making (SDM). Hunter, Wildlife Strategic Coordinator for Qwelmínte Secwépemc and co-chair of the First Nations-BC Wildlife and Habitat Conservation Forum, followed with a deeply insightful and intentionally humorous discussion of how biologists can help with enacting the shared decision making model. Drawing from my work on both Indigenous-led and Government-led wildlife SDM initiatives, the goal of my talk was to present two real-life examples of these concepts and policies in action. I spoke about my MSc work, and my work supporting the development of the Province's new Thinhorn Sheep Stewardship Framework (writing on that coming to you soon!), all while offering my reflections on ways we can support meaningful reconciliation through professional practice.

Discussing meaningful reconciliation and how we collectively manage BC's wildlife are not easy conversations. They challenge our world views and education systems, and present complex ideas that can be deeply emotional. Even so, our panel was met with genuine engagement from the audience, and I can't count how many people came up to myself over the two days expressing gratitude for our talks and telling me how much they enjoyed them. Many folks in our Province have limited to no experience or education in Indigenous science & stewardship or the ways we can co-create knowledge and steward the land together in a good way. To be able to open that conversation for people in a meaningful way and support their journey in these new times was profound for me. As the attendees find their way home and back into their busy routines, I know it's possible that soon they may only remember Hunter's jokes about his moustache, or maybe only recall one or two of the wildlife photos from my slides. However, I trust that creating that space at the conference for people to exercise their mind in this new way, even if only for an hour of their lives, will have further reaching impacts than we can conceptualize.

In my talk I emphasized how in a “walking on two legs” approach, it’s important to highlight that we don’t want to create a polarizing dichotomy between western science and Indigenous science. I commonly see these conversations in BC driving divide and negativity, and it's a tragic delay in us all working together for a common goal, which is taking care of and sharing the gifts around us. However, I think everyone in the conference hall on Thursday afternoon could feel that our conversations brought us closer: in our understandings, in our appreciations, and in our hope.

To my colleague and friend Hunter, thank you for all you do to champion these difficult issues in the Province and across Nations. Your impacts on our paradigms of wildlife management and Indigenous leadership are astounding. It is truly an honour to watch you in your career, and now work alongside you, and I thank you for those opportunities.

Let's keep the conversation going! Feel free to connect with me in the comments or by email/social media. Please reach out for recommended readings & online resources.

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