Conflict in Complex Social-Ecological Systems: Understanding conservation conflicts in Canada towards their transformation




Eckert, Lauren E.

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In the 21st century, human pressure on Earth has resulted in widespread ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss, and proposed solutions often spark conflict. These resulting conservation conflicts take many forms, occurring across geographical scales and locations, and within and between stakeholder groups, communities, nations, and species. These multifaceted conflicts are often considered among the most intractable problems in modern conservation sciences. Scholarly frameworks and practical methods are urgently needed to support our understanding of these conflicts, and our ability to pursue human- and environmental-well being. In this dissertation, I examine three conservation conflicts, two among people, and one between wildlife and people, which vary in scale and other system characteristics. My dissertation answers three core questions: i) How can a CCT approach inform assessment of Canadian environmental-decision making processes as they attempt to embrace multiple forms of knowledge and many interested parties?, ii) What existing bodies of scholarship and social science-derived methodologies and models might be mobilized within a CCT framework? Might some of these other models and supporting scholarship contribute repeatable methodologies to the CCT literature?), and iii) How can a CCT approach inform studies of human-wildlife conflict? Can CCT processes be aligned with ecological research assessing human-wildlife conflict to examine these conflicts more holistically? In the process of answering these questions, I develop new methods, frameworks, and data towards better understanding these and other conflicts and supporting their transformation. In Chapter 2 (published in FACETS, 2020), my coauthors and I assess conflict between knowledge types in environmental decision-making processes. In the last 50 years, many western societies have used environmental assessment (EA) processes to deliberate on industrial proposals, informed by scientific information, though results of these processes often spur conflict. Recently, some EA processes have attempted to incorporate Indigenous knowledge (IK), but practitioners and scholars have criticized the ability of EA to meaningfully engage IK. We considered these tensions in Canada, a country with economic focus on resource extraction and unresolved government-to-government relationships with Indigenous Nations. In 2019, the Canadian government passed the Impact Assessment Act; addressing this opportunity, we examined obstacles between IK and EA via a systematic literature review and qualitative analysis. Our results identify obstacles preventing the Act from meaningfully engaging IK, some of which are surmountable (e.g., failures to engage best practices, financial limitations), whereas others are deep-rooted (e.g., knowledge incompatibilities, effects of colonization). We offer recommendations towards transforming conflicts between IK and EA towards improved decision-making and recognition of Indigenous rights. In Chapter 3 (submitted to Conservation Science and Practice), my coauthors and I examine stakeholder conflict over how best to manage marine species of shared concern. A first step in overcoming conflicts is examining their roots in people’s identities and beliefs - rather than focusing solely on the visible conflicts at hand. In the Salish Sea region of British Columbia (BC), Canada, conflict has emerged surrounding Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) (Orcinus orca) and Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). SRKW are critically endangered due to intersecting stressors – among them depletion of Chinook. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has passed measures that restrict recreational fishing of Chinook to protect SRKW. Public response to protection measures has been conflict-laden and is especially tense between so-called angler and conservation-oriented communities – two stakeholder groups assumed to be distinct and at opposite sides of conflict. Employing social science methods, we used online surveys to examine the social identity, environmental identity, beliefs, and opinions of those involved in this conflict. Most survey participants (n = 816) self-identified as either conservation-supporters (49%) or anglers (33%). Our analyses revealed demographic differences, with anglers generally overrepresented by men, those with higher incomes, and those with 2-year terminal degrees. Both groups scored similarly high in environmental identity and stakeholder identify affiliation scores, also showing positive correlations between the intensity of identities with participation in public discourse. Stakeholder groups differed strongly in management opinions and beliefs. Ultimately, our results identify conflicts between Salish Sea stakeholder groups as deeply-embedded. Commonalities (especially in beliefs regarding Chinook salmon), however, identify a path forward that draws on conflict transformation theory. Our approach offers new generalizable insight into the levels-of-conflict framework within conservation conflict transformation theory to inform scholarly and practical endeavours. In Chapter 4, my coauthors and I assess the social-ecological drivers of human-wildlife conflict. Conflict between humans and wildlife presents significant threats to human and wildlife well-being. Research that comprehensively examines the ecological and social dimensions of human-wildlife relationships can provide new insight into management interventions that promote coexistence. In BC, human-wildlife conflicts have increased substantially in the last two decades, with most occurring between humans and black bears (Ursus americanus). Despite mitigation attempts, conflict in the Qathet Regional District is pervasive. How social and ecological factors concurrently predict conflict is poorly understood in the region and the scientific literature. We examined the spatially-relevant ecological (e.g., bear relative use, land cover) and social (e.g., beliefs, behavior) predictors of conflict to understand how they might explain variation in its frequency and distribution. . Via a mixed methods approach, we used remote sensing, camera traps, property audits, and social surveys across 27 randomly selected 200-metre by 200-metre grids within the Qathet Regional District (n = 1,271 households). Social surveys revealed variation in participant beliefs about bears; most (52%) considered their overall experience with bears positive, while others reported neutral (32%) or negative (13%) overall experiences. Moreover, our generalized linear mixed-model and an information-theoretic approach identified which variables (or combination) predicted conflict outcomes. We found that road density, household garbage, and participant perception of risk increased the probability of conflict, whereas human density had a negative effect. An interaction term between household garbage and risk perception revealed a positive association between conflict and garbage only when risk perception was high. Relative variable importance determined that household garbage and risk perception were the most important predictors. The interplay between these social and ecological predictors and their resulting influence on conflict reveal new targets for intervention by local collaborating organizations via education, monitoring, and enforcement. More broadly, we showcase an interdisciplinary methodological framework that spans ecological and social approaches, offering promise to confront and mitigate enduring conflict between people and wildlife. By analyzing three disparate case studies of conflict across policy, environmental decision-making, intergroup conflict, and human-wildlife conflict contexts, I contribute to scholarly understanding of the anatomy and complexity of conservation conflicts. In this dissertation, I provide new insight, methodologies, and contributions to understand and, hopefully, transform conservation conflicts.



conservation, ecology, conservation conflict, conservation conflict transformation, Canada, Indigenous knowledge, human dimensions, environmental assessment, black bear, human wildlife interactions, ecosystem management