A list of Papers and Journal Articles related to Aboriginal Mapping. Please contact us if you know of, or would like to submit, a paper.

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What's Good for the Goose?: The Political Ecology of Waterfowl Co-Management in Western Alaska

Joseph Spaeder
Graduate Group in Ecology Dept. of Anthropology - UC Davis

Resolving conflicts over scarce renewable resources is among the greatest challenges facing wildlife and protected area managers in high latitude regions. At the same time, protecting access to traditional lands and resources upon which their cultural and economic well being rests is a chief concern for native peoples around the world. Over the last decade, cooperative management has emerged as the dominant strategy in Northern regions for resolving resource conflicts and building partnerships in conservation and management between local users and government agencies. Since 1984, Yup'ik Eskimo hunters and government managers in Western Alaska have established regimes for the joint management of waterfowl, grizzly bear, caribou and salmon. This paper examines the evolution, structure and operation of one of these regimes, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Goose Management Plan (Y-K Delta GMP hereafter), utilizing the literature and framework of political ecology as a guide.

In the past, researchers have tended to assess the institutional performance of cooperative management regimes on the basis of negotiated agreements and other policy documents. However, co-management regimes are more than policy outcomes, more than sets of rules devised to reduce conflict. Co-management institutions increasingly play a pivotal role in the struggle between native users and government agencies over the defense of customary use rights and the authority to manage wildlife. In order to adequately understand the nature of social relations in the region under study, I embed an analysis of this waterfowl co-management regime within: 1) a history of social conflict; 2) divergent perceptions of ecology; and 3) completing claims to wild lands and wildlife. Without reducing the importance of institutional analysis, the political ecology framework directs analytic attention beyond the particulars of specific co-management agreements to the ways in which comanagement institutions function as effective mediating institutions and alter power relations between local communities and governmental management institutions.

The paper draws on interviews conducted in 1996 and 1997 with native hunters and leaders in three coastal villages in Western Alaska: Chevak, Scammon Bay and Hooper Bay. These villages are located adjacent to most of the government biological research camps in the region. Extensive interviews were also conducted with biologists, managers and native technicians with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Political Ecology and Resource Conflicts

Political ecology focuses on linkages between the local patterns of resource utilization and the larger economic and political institutions and forces that significantly shape those patterns. With roots in critical theory, political ecology has been used to analyze the social causes of environmental degradation and resource conflicts in the developing world. Four aspects distinguish the political ecology framework:

1) A fine-grained analyses of resource use patterns and social relations of land users. Of special interest are cultural linkages between producers and the land, especially tenural arrangements and the social organization of labor.

2) An evaluation of political-economic and ecological dimensions of environmental resource use at different spatial scales of analysis from the village, regional, national and international levels.

3) Attention to the cultural construction of natural resources by social actors at each level of analysis.

4) An emphasis on historical analysis to understand the process of encapsulation of resource-dependent communities within regional and national political economies.

Social Conflict and the Emergence of Waterfowl Co-Management

Established in 1984, the Y-K Delta GMP is the second longest running co-management regime in Alaska. Local access and management rights over waterfowl changed significantly as Native Alaskan villages became encapsulated within the political economy of the United States. Subsistence resources that were once under the control of village-based institutions and land tenure arrangements have increasingly come under the management of governmental resource agencies. Spring waterfowl hunting was outlawed early in the century, and continues today only under an informal allowance by the USFWS. By 1980, much of the traditional subsistence lands of coastal villages were formally designated as public lands and placed under the management of the USFWS.

Conflict emerged in the region between local hunters and government managers in the early 1980's in response to the decline of four species of waterfowl: white fronted geese, emperor geese, cackling Canada geese and Pacific black brant. The USFWS reacted by banning harvest and restricting bag limits for these species. Law enforcement efforts were also intensified. Native hunters resisted these measures through stealth in harvesting and avoidance of agency personnel, while village leaders vocally opposed these governmental actions.

In an effort to mediate the conflict, village leaders and the USFWS developed the Y-K Delta GMP, a co-management agreement for the goose populations of the region. Though seen as a model by outside observers, local responses to waterfowl conservation programs in the region, including the Y-K Delta GMP, have been highly variable. On the one hand, villagers and agency biologists support conservation goals and generally agree about the population status of these geese species. Also, aspects of USFWS education programs have been well accepted. On the other hand continued avoidance and opposition to other aspects of waterfowl management reveals a sense of ambiguity regarding local involvement in governmental resource management. For example, several villages in the region categorically refuse any involvement with the USFWS. The Y-K Delta GMP has been unsuccessful in redressing long standing village concerns regarding biological research on waterfowl in the region. Finally, miscommunication and a lack of coordination between coastal villages and the multiple governmental entities which implement research and management programs in the region also spawn conflict.

This case study of waterfowl co-management illustrates the way in which common property resource conflicts have their roots in divergent perceptions of ecological relations and divergent perceptions of property relations and management authority. This paper also advocates an expanded role for a political ecology approach to wildlife conservation in Northern regions, with attention to such issues as competing claims to authority over land and animals, contested meanings of conservation and management, and the micropolitics of resource conflicts.