Lessons of Mountain Geography: Untapped Opportunities for Pastoral Governance

Authors: Kramer Gillin*, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: Mountain Environments, Natural Resources, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Mountains, rangelands, non-equilibrium ecology, variability, livestock mobility, pastoralism, property, governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Stones Throw 1 - Granite, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


While “mountain geography” is a valuable label to organize a community of researchers wrestling with similar problems and phenomena, the sub-field is at its best when we mountain geographers can look for lessons from our field sites that can be applied to non-montane contexts. What characteristics of mountain environments, in particular, can most useful to mine for broadly applicable lessons about people-environment relationships? Likely there are many, but one avenue of exploration is the dramatic shifts in climate over short distances in mountain environments. Studies of non-equilibrial pastoral ecosystems in the late 1980s and especially the 1990s led to the coagulation of a “new rangeland paradigm” where climatic variability was often construed as ‘uncertainty,’ and the foundational mobility of pastoral systems was argued to be possible only with flexible land access rights. Though developed largely in East Africa by careful scholars who were aware of the site-specific nature of their arguments, these new paradigms have increasingly been deployed in analyses of pastoral systems in diverse ecosystems. While this paradigm shift has undeniably been an important advancement in understanding the importance of flexible property regimes in some non-equilibrium ecosystems, such ideas have been inappropriately invoked in less unpredictable environments like montane pastoral landscapes. By seriously integrating classic studies of mountain pastoralism into the dominant literature on pastoral governance, we can create a more accurate typology of climatic variability, mobility, and flexibility that allows for less demanding institutions for managing natural resources.

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