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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Conservation constrained : protecting British Columbia's endangered caribou in a political-economy of extraction DiSilvestro, Adriana Maria


Intensifying resource extraction poses an existential threat to the world’s biodiversity. This threat is exemplified in the case of British Columbia’s (BC) endangered woodland caribou herds (Rangifer tarandus), which are facing extirpation due to extraction-driven habitat destruction, primarily from oil & gas development and forest harvest. Notably, the decline of BC’s caribou is occurring despite the fact that they are both federally protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), and subject to a number of intensive conservation initiatives. In this thesis, I explore how caribou declines are occurring despite existing legal protections by examining how the province’s apparent economic reliance on resource extraction shapes available conservation solutions. To do so, I conduct a two part inquiry using a combination of Critical GIS and policy and textual analysis. First, I quantify the extent to which the province subsidizes oil & gas activities in federally designated critical caribou habitat. Then, I examine the province's dominant conservation solution to caribou endangerment, wolf culling, and unpack its relationship to BC’s extractive regime. Ultimately I find that from 2019-2021, subsidized oil & gas activities were occurring in critical caribou habitat. Additionally, drawing from existing literature on socio-ecological fixes, I demonstrate that because the provincial wolf cull does not challenge the root cause of defaunation, yet fulfills the state’s mandate for conservation action, it ultimately works to sustain the extractive status quo. Overall, this work demonstrates that the apparent economic imperative of resource extraction in British Columbia both undercuts the potential for comprehensive solutions to caribou declines, such as habitat protection, and constrains the realm of possible interventions to those that do not inhibit further extraction. In doing so this research contributes to questions of how global defaunation continues to accelerate despite an increase in legal mechanisms designed to protect vulnerable species and ecosystems.

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