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Grassland debates : conservation and social change in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, British Columbia Reid, Joanna Isabel Emslie


This thesis explores how a rural landscape – the area from Lillooet to Williams Lake along the Fraser River in British Columbia’s Cariboo-Chilcotin region – becomes the subject of increasing grassland conservation activity and with what consequences. Along the Fraser River lies the northern extent of a once vast, now endangered ecosystem called the Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass Grasslands. The landscape is the traditional, unceded territory of the Secwepemc, St’at’imc and Tsilhqot’in Nations. Ranchers have occupied and used the land since the late 1860s; for many years, the well-known Gang Ranch was the largest in North America. It is a dramatic and ecologically significant landscape to which many people hold strong attachments. Since the 1930s, scientists, government officials, activists, and academics have travelled the region within a broad framework of conservation; these practices have intensified dramatically since the 1990s. My central research questions are: (a) how has scientific conservation extended over this rural landscape and created new social forms; and, (b) how do different people – conservationists, ranchers, and Aboriginal community members – relate to subsequent changes. I argue that ecological ideas, travelling through conservation networks, change the social meaning of the landscape, though in unpredictable ways. I explore the middle Fraser as a site of growing conservation interest and activity. This work is situated within literatures on resource geography and environmental politics in British Columbia, which emphasize complex interrelationships among environmentalists, Aboriginal communities, and rural, non-Aboriginal people who depend on resource use activities for their livelihoods. I am also interested in the productive, disciplinary nature of scientific and state knowledge, as described in the literature on eco-governmentality. However, I see conservation as a set of discourses and practices, dynamic and emergent in a very active material, social world. In this view, I am influenced by Actor-Network Theory, which emphasizes a decentering of agency. Even as conservation changes the meaning of the middle Fraser, it is always through constant, complex negotiation with many different people and diverse non-human elements.

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