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Successful Introduction of the Ethical Framework

We introduced the ethical framework for the first time in spring 1998 in a report entitled Good Times, Bad Times: Ethics Concerning Large Grazers (Keulartz et al. 1998)? In the autumn of the same year, we presented the results of this study at an international symposium in the Dutch city of Doorwerth, where some 250 participants discussed what policy to pursue concerning large herbivores in nature reserves in the coming decades. This presentation was the first of a long series of presentations and guest lectures in the Netherlands and abroad. We have also made our results public in numerous articles in academic and professional journals, in book chapters in edited volumes on environmental ethics and nature conservation, and in interviews with newspapers, as well as on radio and television.

The introduction of our framework had the effect we had hoped for: by counteracting the black-and-white thinking that had frustrated productive debate on the management of the OVP, we apparently opened up space for both sides to start moving and to engage in new possibilities for communication and cooperation. A good example is provided by Frans Vera, the most important architect of the OVP. In a Festschrift on the occasion of my retirement in 2012, Vera admitted that he initially was rather skeptical of philosophers who wanted to be involved in the debate about wildlife management. He considered me “to be yet another meddler who doesn’t know a thing about animals living in the wild, but who nonetheless insists on having his say on the matter.” But he soon retracted this view and recognized that the Philosophy Group’s conceptual intervention had brought about a marked turnaround in the debate. Frans Vera wrote:

I was able to break free from the juridification into which the entire discussion about animal welfare had gotten bogged down. It was no longer a question of whether the animals were domestic or wild, according to the Animal Health and Welfare Act. You said that there were not two static extremes, but that animals could move from one category to the other. It is precisely by presenting this trajectory of movement from one category to another that I believe that you, Jozef, have pulled the sting out of the discussion, although the discussion has certainly not yet calmed down.

Our research project was declared one of the two most influential and socially relevant projects within the ‘Ethics and Public Policy’ program of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. Good Times, Bad Times had a profound impact on government policies regarding the management of large herbivores in the OVP and similar sites. Our ethical framework was used to draw up the Large Grazers Guidelines that were adopted by the Dutch parliament in 2000. We continued to influence these policies through, among other things, my membership of the Scientific Counsel of Large Grazers in the OVP, set up by the State Forest Service in 2002, and since 2012 through my chairmanship of the Foundation of Natural Processes, whose most prominent member is Frans Vera.

The success of our intervention in the OVP controversy encouraged us to develop a more comprehensive toolbox of pragmatic methods under the heading of‘boundary work.’ In addition to the overcoming of dualisms by gradualization, this toolbox also included, among other things, the transformation of problematic situations by reframing, the depolarization of conflicts by searching for deeper shared values through a common ground dialogue, and the creation of space for shared problem solving by the formation of so-called boundary objects (Keulartz 2009a, 2009b). Our success in the OVP controversy also encouraged us to use this toolbox to tackle a series of societal and scientific controversies, such as the debates on climate change, invasive species, and the ethics of the zoo.

However, our strategy of gradualization did not fall onto fertile soil as far as some were concerned. Farmers, in particular, insisted on the domestic status of the cattle and horses in the OVP. This also applied to two groups that are dependent on farmers—veterinarians and hunters. Veterinarians depend for their livelihood on livestock farmers who are their main customers. Hunters also depend on farmers, namely, for their hunting rights. They must lease these rights from farmers and other landowners who have a hunting area of at least 40 hectares. It is mainly due to these groups that the discussion on the management of the OVP would erupt, time and again.

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