The University of Arizona

The political ecology of local environmental narratives: power, knowledge, and mountain caribou conservation

R. Patrick Bixler


Political ecology seeks to address notable weaknesses in the social sciences that consider how human society and the environment shape each other over time.   Considering questions of ideology and scientific discourse, power and knowledge, and issues of conservation and environmental history, political ecology offers an alternative to technocratic approaches to policy prescriptions and environmental assessment.  Integrating these insights into the science-policy interface is crucial for discerning and articulating the role of local resource users in environmental conservation. This paper applies political ecology to addresses a gap in the literature that exists at the interface of narratives of local environmental change and local ecological knowledge and doing so builds a nuanced critique of the rationality of local ecological knowledge.  The ways that we view nature and generate, interpret, communicate, and understand the "science" of environmental problems is deeply embedded in particular economic, political, and ecological contexts.  In interior British Columbia, Canada, these dynamics unfold in one of the most rigorously documented examples of the negative effect of anthropogenic disturbance on an endangered species – declining mountain caribou population.  Science notwithstanding, resource users tell narratives of population decline that clearly reflect historical regularities deeply embedded in particular economic, political, and ideological constructions situated in local practices. This research assesses these narratives, discusses the implications, and explores pathways for integrating local knowledge and narratives into conservation science and policy. A more informed understanding of the subjectivities and rationalities of local knowledges can and should inform conservation science and policy.

Keywords: Political ecology, local ecological knowledge, narrative, environmental change, environmental management, British Columbia, Rangifer tarandus caribou. 

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