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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Restor(y)ing fire landscapes : wildfire recovery, co-management and restoration in Secwepemcúl̓ecw Dickson-Hoyle, Sarah


Worldwide, the increasing frequency and severity of ‘megafires’ poses a growing risk to people and ecosystems alike. While conservation scientists highlight the need to better understand how ecosystems are affected by and recover following megafires, Indigenous peoples are re-asserting jurisdiction to their lands and waters by leading the recovery and restoration of fire-affected territories. In this dissertation, conducted in collaboration with the Secwepemcúl̓ecw Restoration and Stewardship Society its member Secwépemc Nation communities, I examine how Secwépemc communities and territories are recovering from the 2017 ‘Elephant Hill’ megafire in British Columbia (BC), Canada, and the role of Indigenous-led restoration in restoring fire-adapted and fire-affected landscapes. Through semi-structured interviews, participant observation and plant community ecology methods, I document drivers and processes of both community-led and ecological recovery. Chapter 3 documents Secwépemc experiences of and engagement in wildfire management, with a focus on the collaborative governance of wildfire recovery. In describing the ‘joint leadership’ approach to recovery, this chapter identifies ‘lessons’ – successes, strengths, and challenges – to inform ongoing recovery and future wildfire response. Guided by the Secwépemc Declaration on the Understory, the fourth chapter analyzes the recovery of understory plant communities, with a focus on plants of high cultural significance to Secwépemc people. The high richness of culturally important plants recorded in areas that burned at low to moderate-severity, and in subalpine forests, highlights the strong potential of Indigenous fire stewardship to guide restoration and the ongoing eco-cultural importance of high-elevation landscapes to Secwépemc people. The fifth and final chapter describes Secwépemc Elder Ron Ignace’s concept of ‘walking on two legs’ (WO2L) to guide collaborative research and restoration in Secwepemcúl̓ecw and other Indigenous territories: the restoration of land by and to Indigenous peoples. These interdisciplinary and mixed-methods inquiries advance theories of collaborative environmental governance and the politics and production of knowledge, while responding to calls for a new megafire ecology to better understand the effects of large, high-severity wildfires on species, communities, and ecosystems. Collectively, this dissertation highlights the need to strengthen Indigenous leadership in wildfire management, and to support pathways of recovery that attend to the interconnections between land and community wellbeing.

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