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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring complexity in changing practices of care : a mixed methods inquiry into rights, relations, and knowledge in protected area conservation Stevens, Madison Paige


Commonly described as the cornerstone of conservation, protected areas contribute immeasurably to supporting flourishing ecosystems and human wellbeing, and are crucial tools to address the accelerating biodiversity crisis. Yet conventional exclusionary approaches have frequently proven ineffective and inequitable. Accordingly, there is a pressing need for conservation actors to make decisions considering diverse knowledge and values, under conditions of high uncertainty. This dissertation is concerned with the nature of these decisions as they are unfolding in practice, and their entanglements with structures of power, patterns of change, and diverse ways of knowing the human and other-than-human landscape. At multiple scales of decision-making –– conservation planners, community forest managers, and household resource users –– I investigate how institutional arrangements, evidentiary norms, and human-environment relationships affect stewardship. The second chapter develops a novel approach using document analysis and survey methods to assess how the Nature Conservancy of Canada applies multiple types of evidence in conservation planning, identifying evidence gaps and barriers to effective engagement with Indigenous knowledges. The subsequent empirical chapters focus on three related aspects of environmental governance in van panchayat community forests in a high mountain valley in Uttarakhand, India. Chapter 3 introduces the case study, describing how forest councils navigate their legal and customary rights and responsibilities to manage van panchayats for conservation and livelihood benefits. In the same region, the fourth chapter applies a mental models analysis approach to interview data, to illustrate complexities and patterns in how local forest managers are perceiving and responding to intersecting dimensions of change. The fifth and final empirical chapter reports on qualitative and quantitative analyses of a household survey on human-wildlife relations in the same community forests, finding that institutional responsibilities and ethics of care contribute meaningfully to norms of coexistence with wild animals despite persistent conflict. These inquiries apply a range of methodological approaches to advance theories of environmental governance in political ecology, knowledge co-production, and the human dimensions of conservation. In doing so, this work highlights the highly complex, context-specific, and changing ways in which stewarding actors care for protected areas in practice, and identifies potential pathways to support these efforts.

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