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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring discretion and ethical agency of BC professional foresters : the space between ought and can Baumber, Stephen William


In British Columbia (BC) foresters registered with the Association of BC Forest Professionals (ABCFP) have been given the exclusive right to practise professional forestry. As with all professions there is an expectation that Registered Professional Foresters (RPFs) conduct their activities in an ethical manner and are therefore obligated to act as an ethical agent on behalf of society regarding forest resources. If a certain level of ethical agency is desired of professionals we need to understand whether or not an RPF possesses the ability (defined as their discretion) to sufficiently fulfil this responsibility. Rule-based and principle-based standards of forest management, an RPF’s scope of practice, and the socio-political framework of public forest management in BC all come together to define an RPF’s discretionary context, which sets the limits to an RPF’s discretion. This context is highly idiosyncratic to a specific situation or decision and this makes the RPF’s discretion similarly idiosyncratic. This suggests that an RPF should not be accountable for a standard of ethical agency that does not reflect the context-dependent level of discretion they possess. Fifteen interviews of RPFs were conducted for this study to discuss their approach to ethical decision making. The analysis of the interviews revealed 12 major themes, several of which appear to be highly idiosyncratic to the situations described by the participants. The way these themes were perceived by the participants revealed the differences in the discretionary context of their situations. Several aspects of ethical deliberation emerged from the data that appear to be particular to broad employer categories, including delegated decision-making (government), economic and forest health considerations (industry), and the tension between personal and professional values (consultants).

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