Ethics Signing Statement on Protecting Beavers
Recently members of the board of PAN Works supported a policy proposal to end the hunting and trapping of beavers on US federal lands.
Written by the Western Watershed Project, the proposal takes the form of a letter to US President Biden by an impressive coalition of civil society, scientists and nonprofit organizations requesting the protection of beavers on federal public lands.
The letter cogently argues that beavers are indispensable landscape engineers, providing crucial ecosystem services in the form of watershed management, habitat creation and protection, forest fire and drought mitigation, flood control, as well as abundant and joyous opportunities for wildlife watching. As importantly, all of these benefits provided by beavers play important roles in nature-based solutions to both the accelerating climate emergency and the critical loss of biodiversity.
In addition to supporting the policy message of this letter, we also produced an Ethics Signing Statement as a concurrence to the original message. PAN Works sent this concurrence to President Biden as well.
As a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to the wellbeing of animals, the board of PAN Works notes that the letter focuses on the instrumental value of beavers to people and nature. Our concurrence complements this focus by addressing the intrinsic value of beavers themselves and our consequent responsibilities to their wellbeing.
Importantly, there is a civic intention behind signing statements that we keep in mind. We want to support allies, partners and aligned voices in policy debates that seek to improve our understanding of and conduct towards other animals. We don’t want to detract from their good work through negative critiques about what they are not addressing.
Signing statements are most familiar to policy wonks through US presidential politics. Presidents often use signing statements as a partisan “pocket veto” delimiting their implementation of legislation. We are not approaching signing statements in this manner.
Instead, we practice the tradition of concurrences and dissents found in much of ethical, legal and religious thought. The majority opinion, concurrences and dissents in the ruling of a court is one instance. The theological tradition of commentary and glosses on sacred texts is another example.
Instrumentalizing animals is frequently justified as a matter of political ‘pragmatism’. Indeed, as members of PAN Works we speak in these terms ourselves when we agree that animals are providers of ecological services and components of nature-based solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss.
Yet when we only focus on empirical arguments about science, ecology or sustainability, we ignore or diminish the complementary ethical arguments about care, justice and respect. Indeed, these ethical arguments are often why we care about the wellbeing of animals in the first place. Attending to the science and ethics together is necessary if our collective deliberation and policy making are to positively affect the wellbeing of animals, and by interrelation, people and nature.
So ethical signing statements are meant to convey our respect and engagement with the viewpoints of others. Through them we express our concurrence or dissent with an eye to deepening our mutual understanding of ethics and policy.
We hope readers can see the benefit of taking this approach. Our full signing statement is reproduced below.
Bill Lynn is an ethicist and founder of PAN Works.
Please visit PAN Works for more about our work on ethics and animal wellbeing.