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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seeking refuge : making space for migratory waterfowl and wetlands along the Pacific flyway Wilson, Robert Michael


"Seeking Refuge" examines the history of migratory waterfowl management along the Pacific Flyway, the westernmost of four main migration routes in North America. Drawing on approaches from historical geography and environmental history, this study shows how wildlife officials developed migratory bird refuges in Oregon and California, where over 60 percent of Pacific Flyway waterfowl winter. During the early-twentieth century, reclamation and river diking eliminated most of the wetlands in the birds' wintering range. Bird enthusiasts such as bird watchers and duck hunters successfully lobbied for the creation of wildlife refuges in a few areas along the flyway. These early refuges failed to protect waterfowl habitat and they were severely degraded by reclamation. In the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and its predecessor, the Bureau of Biological Survey, undertook an ambitious program to resurrect these sanctuaries and to create new ones. Many farmers opposed these refuges out of fear that waterfowl would damage crops. To respond to these concerns and to ensure an adequate food supply for the birds, the FWS raised rice, barley, and other crops. The agency adopted many of the technologies of modern, industrial agriculture including synthetic herbicides and insecticides such as 2, 4-D and DDT. By the 1960s, the refuges had become largely mirrors of the surrounding irrigated farmlands, the main difference being that the FWS raised grain for waterfowl rather than for market. Refuges could not escape the agricultural settings in which they were embedded. As units within the irrigated countryside, Pacific Flyway refuges were often at the mercy of nearby farmers and federal reclamation agencies. Poor water quality and insufficient supplies of water often hampered FWS efforts to manage refuges. In the late-twentieth century, reduced water supply due to diversions to California municipalities and to sustain endangered fish species affected the amount of water reaching refuges. This dissertation has other goals. First, it critiques the anthropocentrism of most historical geography by focusing on how political, cultural, and ecological factors affected wildlife. Second, it contributes to the literature on the state's role in environmental protection by investigating the overlapping, and often contradictory, spaces within which wildlife managers implemented environmental regulations.

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