Those that burn and the risks they pose: Considering the position and politics of plants in fire-prone ecosystems

Authors: Colin Sutherland*, York University
Topics: Environment, Animal Geographies, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: fire, political ecology, institutional analysis, vegetal geography, conservation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Harding, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Normative accounts of wildfires often position them as unwieldy forces of nature that arise out of nowhere, by surprise or, as disasters to be traced back to a single human error, with little interrogation of the circumstances that have prompted these events in the first place. As Simons (2016) considers in his analysis of fire management and urban planning in wildland-urban interface fires in California, our history with landscapes that are particularly flammable are steeped in political-economic decisions that often bracket the volatility of landscapes that burn, and support continued capitalist expansion often at the expense of human life and ecological health. Other scholars have urged us to consider how wildfires are entangled in temporalities that go beyond the mere event of combustion and invite us to consider them as happenings fuelled by the lively and dead bodies of plants and demand an attention that account for the rhythm with which they make themselves known. Though most approaches to fire management are narrated by forms of risk and executed by attempt to suppress, contain and extinguish fire, vegetation and combustion often disrupt, or interrupt, these actions. Based on interviews and document analysis of fire management institutions in Western Canada this paper considers the ways in which the risks wildfires pose help expose the position and politics of vegetation which has prompted some, but not all, institutions to attempt alternative approaches that, in effect, take vegetation more seriously.

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