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Sunday walks and seed traps : the many natural histories of British Columbia forest conservation, 1890-1925 Brownstein, David

Abstract

British Columbia amateur natural historians were among the most vocal advocates of scientific forest conservation at the turn of the twentieth century. They were uniquely positioned to document the environmental changes that their colonial society had brought to the province and their observations enlivened them to petition government to control these changes. In response to the appeals of such individuals as James Robert Anderson (1841-1930), John Davidson (1878-1970), and Chartres Cecil Pemberton (1864-1945), government embraced the empirical theories of Prussian Forstwissenschaft. However, the forest botany that complemented these forest mensuration techniques (and necessary to implement sustained-yield forestry) did not survive the trip from Europe intact. Upon creation of the B.C. Forest Branch in 1912, staff adopted natural history techniques to make sense of, and then manage, the provincial forests under its control. The natural historians and the foresters were thus joined by the causeway of ecology as it was then emerging in North America. It was over this ecological bridge that traffic flowed back and forth between the old scientific culture of the natural historians and the new North American forestry. The Branch initially pursued a brand of egalitarian science whereby each and every employee was responsible for compiling policy-relevant sample-plot observations. A lack of trust between headquarters and those in the field changed this strategy and gave rise to a different geography of expertise, with the consequence that the original structure of scientific interaction became obstructed from historical view. By jettisoning the idea that the science that underpinned early forest management was solely an homogenous uptake of European Forstwissenschaft, we allow for different (and often competing) scientific cultures to exist at the same time and in the same place. We can also better understand the naturalists’ influence upon and their eventual marginalization by the Forest Branch and its nascent philosophy of sustained-yield. The thesis explores each of these themes by way of chapters on scientific culture in British Columbia; three quite different botanists; and research as practised by the British Columbia Forest Branch.

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