Managing wild emotions: The affective labor of wildlife managers in the Greater Yellowstone

Authors: Katie Epstein*, Montana State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Animal Geographies, Natural Resources
Keywords: conflict resolution, North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, ownership change, wildlife management
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The use of hunting as a tool for managing game species on private land is a cornerstone of the North American Model (NAM) of wildlife conservation and depends on a set of institutional norms and cooperative practices between hunters, private landowners, and wildlife agencies. In rural agricultural landscapes facing ownership and demographic change, public hunting access on private land is decreasing. These land-use changes severely limit the capacity of wildlife managers to control wildlife density and distribution, resulting in intense conflict between individuals seeking hunting access for sport, agricultural producers fearing economic loss from game damage and disease, and landowners harboring large populations of game species on private property. Drawing on ethnographic engagement with wildlife managers in the Greater Yellowstone, USA, I argue that a requisite feature of managing wildlife on private lands has become managing the private landowners themselves, and more specifically their fear, anger, and frustration with institutional structures. To assuage environmental conflict, wildlife managers use an array of embodied practices and socio-natural relationship-building to deliberately modify and control the emotional experiences of private landowners. I code this labor as both emotional (Hochschild 1983) and affective (Hardt and Negri 2000; 2004) and use attention to the more-than-human to consider implications for the social and emotional relations connecting landowners, wildlife, and wildlife managers. Such a framing provides opportunities to assess the long-term viability of the NAM and the ability of wildlife governance to support both rural livelihoods and alternative social-ecological futures.

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