Dissertation: Coexisting With Carnivores
As human populations expand and landscape development continues to encroach upon the already imperiled wilderness of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), predatory stakeholders are encountering and entangling with one another more frequently- both materially and semiotically. The result has been pronounced spatial, biological, and social conflicts across species. Grizzly bears, cougars, and wolves are widely recognized keystone species in the GYE–defined as having a critical role and disproportionate power in structuring the balance of the fragile ecosystem. Humans, predators with similar ecological capacities, also inhabit the region with a deep sense of place attachment. However, our contemporary measures still physically and symbolically situate humans as separate from predators. My dissertation research explores how this tendency to categorically separate people from predators, society from nature, and science from policy all reinforce and enable the environmental management models that produce conflicts, dominate nature, and contribute to the rampant issues of impoverished natural resources.
I employ social and spatial methods from animal behavior, participatory human geography, and environmental social sciences to examine people’s position as fellow keystone predators who simultaneously possess a unique and critical capacity to reform the environmental strategies that govern our policy and science.
I am interested in three interrelated questions:
1) What is the complexity and necessity of integrating the diverse interests of human and nonhuman predatory stakeholders in future management efforts?
2) How might the GYE’s spatial and social geography complicate and contribute to the conflicting values and sentiments of human stakeholders?
3) How do the perceived threats of keystone species like wolves, grizzly bears, and cougars align their actual presence in settings like the GYE, where human and nonhuman predators frequently live, recreate, and travel?