Conservation through a political lens: what wildlife conservation in Africa and Nevada have in common?

I’ve been following some of Nevada’s debates on wildlife populations and governance issues with interest. I am a historian studying conservation. My research focuses on eastern and southern Africa, geographically distant from Nevada. But looking at Nevada debates through a historical lens, even one rooted in 1920s-1970s Africa, reveals some remarkable points.

The major issues in Nevada involve representation in the agencies that shape state wildlife policy. (The Current point out that the powerful Wildlife Commission “must have five ‘sportsmen’, i.e. hunters, fishermen or trappers…a farmer, a rancher, a conservationist and a member of the public.”) Also controversial are various forms of animals”check” (ie culling), different rhetorical claims about animals and the spaces they inhabitthe balance between development and preservationand increasing the potential for collision or conflict between man and nature† These were and remain equally controversial issues in most African countries with large wildlife populations. With larger and therefore potentially more dangerous carnivores and herbivores, larger rural populations and conservation histories marred by colonial racism and violence (which have shaped the perception of conservation to date), the problems in Africa are arguably even greater. The extinction of species or populations, the integrity of ecosystems and the regulation or prohibition of trade, especially in animal products, are also important themes for nature conservation in Africa. Trophy hunting (especially for international visitors) remains a lucrative business in some countries, while livelihood hunting is often regarded with less tolerance, leading to inequalities and resentment along race and class lines.

From the colonial period to the present, governance agencies and the political discourse surrounding wildlife conservation in Africa have over-influenced certain interests at the expense of others. The same is probably true in Nevada. In Africa, this meant white settlers and colonial officials who were not accountable to the majority African population during the colonial era, and foreign donors and conservationists in the post-independence period. In Nevada, interests do not seem to be defined strictly along racial or “national” lines, but a particular set of interests – particularly the hunting and fishing communities – that exert more influence than their numbers, effectively claiming or claiming animals as “wild”. “pests”, rather than “wildlife” or “biodiversity” (although they use the term “wildlife”). In both cases, therefore, majority communities in the affected areas struggled to make their voices heard. Interestingly, large rural communities in Africa most affected by wildlife policies were the ones that were marginalized, while small rural communities most likely to have contact with wildlife in Nevada dominate policymaking through the Wildlife Commission, forcing urban and suburban Majorities with different perspectives on conservation are lagging behind policies with a substandard vote.

Both spaces were and continue to be shaped by divergent interests and forms of government. While nothing in most African countries replicates the controversial division of powers between the state and the federal government, most countries had multiple agencies charged with managing animal populations with different, but overlapping and sometimes conflicting duties for different areas and/or categories of animals. . For example, wildlife departments and agencies for national parks don’t just manage different spaces; they also possessed different sensitivities, represented different constituencies and appealed to different sciences. They even called animals different things: “game” in the case of the first; “wildlife” in the case of the latter. Wildlife departments in Africa – both pre- and post-independence – also worked with reference to other types of governance structures. These include powerful district officials; usual authorities such as heads; and other “technical” departments dealing with such things as forestry, hydrology, public health and public works.

This meant that marginalized communities in Africa had a number of other channels to advocate for control over minority-produced policies. District officials who cared nothing about conservation, but about maintaining national order, pushed conservation policy back when it provided too much protection for dangerous animals in too many places. Chefs often did the same. This meant that the ground-level dynamics — if not the rhetoric — of conservation may have better reflected the complex politics of these areas, requiring policy negotiation, albeit a political skewed by racist hierarchies and an absent genuine societal debate.

As a result, the resulting policies often lacked coherence, and when international donors got involved in the 1960s, they were often able to use their funds and the associated political clout to shield policymaking from a broader perspective. audience. They did so in a political environment increasingly defined by democratic deficits. In Nevada, policy is made in a desolate political landscape, often through the Wildlife Commission rather than the part-time legislature, which has failed to come to grips with the major problems facing the state in a coherent manner.

Conservation through a political lens

And politics is important. Conservation interests in East Africa in the 1950s, fearing because of the racist narratives they had constructed about African peoples that independence would mean the slaughter of the continent’s wildlife, they began to create structures, institutions, relationships, and funding mechanisms to effectively shield the conservation sector in Africa from interference from democratically elected African governments that came to power in the 1960s. The results were multiple. For starters, making conservation a supposedly apolitical enclave ruled by outside interests, has delegitimized many conservation spaces and any conservation policies in the eyes of the new citizens, alienating conservation issues that colonialism had caused among African publics. Another result of deliberately trying to prevent wildlife issues from becoming entangled in small or large p-politics has been the assumption that science could provide policy recommendations.

But the scientists who descended on Africa’s parks in the 1960s produced data rather than policy recommendations. Science could provide the parameters, but government, and the public it served, still had to ask the right questions and interpret scientific data with reference to public policy priorities and the clamor of various interests invested in conservation. In other words, it was still important to have a vigorous debate with a representative segment of the public. If that didn’t happen, policy paralysis set in. Rangeland management and conservation biology can tell very different stories about a park or ecosystem, or the national wildlife area, giving African governments a range of options. But to make a policy choice, you still had to look at conservation through a political lens and judge various claims to and about wildlife, short- and long-term compromises, and the relationship between wildlife and larger environmental policy goals. .

The result of shielding the conservation sector from public debate and allowing study after study to be conducted without a willingness to act on scientific evidence related to well-defined public policies led to Kenya’s Tsavo in the 1950s and 1960s. National Park to the obscene spectacle of conservationists brutalizing marginalized human populations on the park’s borders for complicity in poaching, while killing thousands of animals in the park to maintain a supposed state of ecological balance based on a misreading of decades-old data. Policy makers acknowledged the absurdity of their work but were consumed by turf wars between various global financiers, thus proving unable to spark a serious debate among Kenyan citizens about the place, acceptable use and responsibilities of compared to the wild animals in the country.

Even after independence, most African countries showed little interest in involving the usual authorities in wildlife management, or in looking to the precolonial past for models of management or coexistence. (Ethnic and thus historical diversity within the boundaries drawn by European colonizers meant that it would have been difficult to identify a single representative model.) Similarly, in Nevada, there seems to be no interest in seeking input of any kind. of indigenous communities. While there will be no one-to-one correspondence between past practices and current policies, alternative sensitivities and thinking habits can fruitfully shape conservation policies.

It will be tempting for Nevada’s urban majority to simply claw power away from the wildlife, whose representation is dramatically skewed toward hunting and fishing interests. But strict majority governance of Nevada’s wildlife may also not be a good idea, and input from rural communities, either through their legislatures or reconfigured governing bodies, is important. However, the state’s nature policy apparatus needs an overhaul. The current wildlife management structure attempts to make its claims without reference to the complex politics of the state, diverse population, or any discernible overarching set of conservation-related policy goals. It makes sporadic and opportunistic appeals to conservation and management science, rather than seeking to develop public policies consistently and deliberately informed by wildlife ecology and conservation biology. The current makeup and practice approaches the privatization of Nevada’s wildlife park, at a time when the state is rapidly changing and must reconcile its conservation policy with the demands and goals of conservation and climate.

One of the reasons conservation in eastern and southern Africa remains such a fraught, messy and sometimes violent undertaking has to do with powerful interests that dominated that sector during the colonial years, refusing to relinquish power and create new citizens. and interests in its decision-making processes. The colonial legacy that continues to shape wildlife policy in Africa—through policy continuity or the power of people’s memories—is far from a perfect analogy for Nevada’s strange wildlife governments and departments. But it reminds us that if nature policy is shielded from decision-making and input that reflects the whole of the public interest, animals, land and ultimately the integrity of related conservation and governance projects suffer.

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