Woodland caribou at the intersection of political economy and extinction

Authors: Rosemary-Claire Collard*, Simon Fraser University, Jessica Dempsey*, University of Victoria
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography, Animal Geographies
Keywords: Extinction, the state, caribou, environmental assessment, capitalist natures
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Studio 8, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Why do woodland caribou face likely extinction despite being awarded the highest level of protection under Canadian endangered species legislation? While debates center on whether to blame industrial development or wolf predation, our approach is to excavate how woodland caribou are oriented within capitalism and the state over time and space. We are interested in developing a more forensic and nuanced account of the decisions, institutions and processes that force animals like woodland caribou into dwindling spaces of refuge. In this paper, we focus on the state, in particular the state tool of environmental assessment (EA). EA ostensibly exists to ensure that new development projects - mines, roads, transmission lines, dams, pipelines - have minimal impact on wildlife, especially endangered wildlife. Yet EAs seldom culminate in a recommendation to reject a project, even when impacts to caribou are deemed significant. So how are impacts “neutralized” (by which we mean the impacts are recognized but do not become grounds for recommending rejection of the project)? Based on a review of forty federal environmental assessments in which impacts to caribou were considered, we suggest there are three main impact neutralization mechanisms: impact “mitigation” measures are promised; land is designated as no longer used by caribou; or the “public interest” in the project is deemed to outweigh the impacts. Drawing these together, we argue that the state, attempting to balance its role as protector from and promoter of development, seeks an “optimal” population of caribou that permits widespread extraction without causing extinction.

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