Year of Award

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Geography

Department or School/College

Department of Geography

Committee Chair

David Shively

Commitee Members

Thomas Sullivan, Michael Patterson

Keywords

Wolves, Trapping, Nature, Montana, Discourse, Topophilia

Publisher

University of Montana

Subject Categories

Communication | Environmental Policy | Geography | Human Geography | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Nature and Society Relations | Place and Environment | Social Influence and Political Communication

Abstract

In 2011, after nearly forty years of federal protection, the gray wolf was removed from the Endangered Species List in Montana and its management entrusted to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The implementation of public trapping seasons in 2012 as a method to control wolf populations has further inflamed an already embroiled debate. The purpose of this research was to investigate how the presence of wolves and wolf trapping impacts human attachments to landscapes of “nature” in Montana by focusing on the following questions: What are the public’s social constructions of wolves? What are the public’s social constructions of wolf trapping? How do these social constructions impinge upon and remake people’s attachments to nature? This research is guided by four geographical concepts: landscape, nature, wilderness, and topophilia. Nature is understood as the non-human environment (e.g., rivers, trees) but also as a culturally mediated knowledge, an idea that is used to describe and construct the natural landscape. Wilderness, though closely related to nature, is regarded as a symbolic idea that serves to transform nature into a more pure or raw state. While these landscapes are certainly full of non-human elements, what is felt and experienced is profoundly human. It is these emotions and attachments that transform the non-human world into what we call ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’. The concept ‘topophilia’ is used to refer to these bonds with nature as a way to understand how wolves and wolf traps remake nature in Montana. A discourse analysis was conducted of public discourse occurring in Missoula and Hamilton, Montana. The core assumptions of discourse analysis have roots in post-structuralism and social constructionist theory. While there is no clear agreement on the relationship between these two bodies of theory, they each similarly claim that reality is a cultural product established through some form of discourse. Discourse analysis is used to look at how the world is made meaningful by identifying and investigating claims of truth and knowledge. This was achieved by collecting letters to the editor, guest columns, and online comments from the major newspapers in each study site between 5/9/2012 and 2/28/2014. Data were imported into NVivo, thematically coded, and analyzed for patterns. Results reveal that people construct wolves and traps in vastly different ways which has important implications for what nature means in Montana. For some, wolves are a critical component of nature and serve to transform it into a seemingly more balanced and wild state. For others, wolves are constructed as cold blooded killers and a plague force that jeopardize nature. Trapping, then, is framed as an essential tool to restoring human control over a landscape perceived as infested with wolves and restoring game herds to sufficient levels for public harvest. Still others frame trapping as a dangerous threat to their safety, kids, and pets, creating a landscape of fear and apprehension. These diverging constructions and topophilic natures are indicative of an issue that has haunted the West for the better part of two decades, and continues to pose a significant challenge for natural resource and wildlife managers. By describing how people construct knowledge about wolves and wolf trapping, these findings may serve as a useful guide to understanding the social dimensions of wolf management and recovery and help managers navigate policy in a landscape of conflict.

 

© Copyright 2015 Andrew Myers