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The Mountain Watch: Vigilante Forest Governance in Boulder County

Authors: Gabriella Subia Smith*,
Topics: Qualitative Methods, Rural Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: Front Range, political ecology, forest governance
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Front Range is one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. A recent ethnographic study on responses to growth in small mountain towns in Boulder County has revealed a rise in vigilante forest governance. A citizen watch group, composed of mountain town residents, claim to combat fire risk, respond to emergencies, and assist local law enforcement with monitoring activity on forest land. However, these groups’ use of social media as a primary mode of surveillance and reporting often results in violent and exclusionary tactics taken outside of the scope of official law enforcement. In recent years, geolocated photos of campsites have circulated the group’s social media sites leading community members to harass campers and trash campsites that they consider illegal or unsafe. While group leaders and members insist that these tactics are essential for protecting the forest and local community, this vigilante-style of governance has led to increased tensions between law enforcement, group members, campers and the larger mountain community. Attitudes of nativism and NIMBYism are common among group members and Front Range communities who blame the influx of so-called “transients” for threatening small-town mountain life. The watch group is important for understanding changing local conditions but also larger trends of populism and neoliberal doctrine that shape everyday interactions right in our backyard.

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