The University of Arizona

Contested terrain of extractive development in the American West: using a regional political ecology framework to understand scalar governance, biocentric values, and anthropocentric values

Jeffrey Jenkins


The American West has seen a resurgence of capital investment in extractive mineral development on federal lands, emanating from the recent global financial crisis. For these extractive projects, as in energy development more broadly, struggles over knowledge persist in the pre-operational phases of exploratory access and environmental review when political-legal rights and scientific facts are coordinated, codified, and contested. Contested knowledge about extractive mineral development beyond the 100th meridian, once more narrowly limited to proximate environmental impacts like water quality, now more broadly encompasses themes of scalar governance, landscape-level conservation, and local resource access. The case studies covered here demonstrate that a regional scale approach to political ecology provides utility as a heuristic to conceptually frame the concepts of governance, resource access, and ecological degradation between larger processes of economic restructuring and more localized micro politics. A case study approach is used to empirically support the claim that region provides a meso-scale of analysis in terms of: scalar resource control – state versus federal (southeast Utah); biocentric values – preserving nature for nature's sake (southern Arizona); and anthropocentric values – newly touted, but grounded in age-old utilitarianism (northeast Wyoming).

Keywords: extractive industries, American West, federal lands, biocentric, anthropocentric

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