Opinion: Group says voters should think of animals' interests this election

Oct 8 2022, 1:19 am

Written for Daily Hive by Aaron Hofman, Director of Advocacy and Policy with The Fur-Bearers, a wildlife protection charity.

As British Columbians go to the ballot box this month for the municipal elections, many pressing issues are top of mind for voters. From housing to climate change, municipalities are on the front lines of major societal problems, tasked with responding to complex challenges and seeking solutions for all.

But what about the needs of animals? We share our communities with countless domestic and wild animals who are impacted by local decision-making — how we vote matters for them. Their inability to cast votes shouldn’t preclude their interests from being represented at the municipal level.

The decisions made by local governments have impacts far beyond the mere electorate. Many people vote for community leaders whose platforms extend to voters and non-voters alike; municipal policies and visions aren’t limited to the current electorate’s interests.

The environment can’t vote but protecting it has been made a focal point under the unfolding climate crisis. Future generations don’t even exist yet (let alone vote), but prudent municipal planning considers their interests in building resilient cities for the future. It’s not a leap to suggest that the interests of animals can – and should – be considered in municipal decision-making.

Take the situation that unfolded in Stanley Park from 2020 to 2021 as an example. There were numerous incidents that occurred between coyotes and humans in the park that resulted in eleven coyotes being killed by the provincial government.

One of the key factors influencing the coyotes’ abnormal behaviour was that they were being fed by humans (two people were recently charged for feeding the coyotes during this time period). These incidents may have been prevented had there been adequate bylaws, more education and enforcement, and preventative measures that placed the needs of urban coyotes and other wildlife at the forefront of urban planning and parks management.

Fortunately, both the Vancouver Park Board and the City of Vancouver have since passed wildlife feeding bylaws, implementing measures that will not only protect urban wildlife, but also the citizens of Vancouver. Policies that have a direct benefit to urban wildlife often provide positive benefits to humans as well – and vice versa.

Rewilding and designating land for parks and greenspace will provide important habitats for urban wildlife, while at the same time mitigating the effect of the urban heat island phenomenon, keeping our cities cool when the temperature rises.

Increasing cycling infrastructure and reducing the number of cars on the road will result in fewer collisions with wildlife. Allowing coyotes to live and flourish in our urban parks will keep their prey populations in check, as they are nature’s natural rat and mouse control. When the interests of animals are considered in urban planning, we all benefit.

Many municipalities across British Columbia have taken the interests of urban wildlife and the idea of coexistence seriously — from municipal trapping bans that protect urban wildlife and companion animals, to comprehensive waste management programs and attractant bylaws that prevent negative encounters with black bears. It is becoming increasingly important to factor in animals in our electoral and governance decisions as our cities are shared with countless species of urban wildlife.

Through rapid urbanization, habitat destruction, land use change, and the impacts of climate change, many animals have made our cities home, and this will only increase. We have a responsibility to consider their interests when building green cities for the future and when voting for the leaders who will get us there.

Decision-making at the local level is critical for animals. Our towns and cities are the ecosystems for a diverse range of animals, and decisions made at the municipal hall have direct impacts on this large, non-voting demographic. Like the obligation we have to represent the interests of future generations, an obligation exists for the animals with whom we currently share our communities.

Building sustainable, just, and resilient municipalities in a time of uncertainty is no easy task, but when we account for the interests of both voters and non-voters at the ballot box, everyone is better off because of it. Ask your local candidates what they will do to further the protection of animals in your municipality if elected. And on October 15, don’t forget to vote.

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