Pyrogeographies in context: Geographies of wildfire knowledge in Canada

Regions: Dehcho Region, North Slave Region, South Slave Region

Tags: social sciences, wildfire

Principal Investigator: Sutherland, Colin R (1)
Licence Number: 16169
Organization: Department of Geography, York University
Licenced Year(s): 2017
Issued: Aug 31, 2017

Objective(s): To understand and manage fire on diverse Canadian landscapes and within the context of a changing environmental policy regime.

Project Description: This project is about how wildfire experts come to understand and manage fire on diverse Canadian landscapes and within the context of a changing environmental policy regime. It aims to consider how a specific government agency, Parks Canada, and its staff come to manage and produce scientific knowledge on various fire-dependent ecosystems and use fire as a tool of environmental care. This project sees science as a practice that unfolds within specific environmental and social contexts. Wildfire management has changed over time as new scientific theories have informed methodological and theoretical changes to managing landscapes. Parks Canada has been identified as a leader in fire management worldwide, operating in an institutional context that centres on what they call ‘ecological integrity.’ This project will consider how wildfire knowledge within Parks Canada is produced and practiced and will consider what it is about this institution’s context that makes this kind of management and science possible.

At one level the Principal Investigator (PI) will focus on wildfire management and science as it unfolds within the bureaucracy of the agency. Though Parks Canada scientists and managers work in diverse environments they rely on a national bureaucracy of infrastructure, funding, policy, and knowledge sharing. Interviews with managers, scientists and other kinds of bureaucrats implicated in Parks Canada fire management sector will inform this work to assess these contingencies and their impact on fire management. Though a great deal of research has focused on fire at the scale of specific fire events, little attention has been paid to these events at an institutional scale.

At a second level the PI will focus on how this institution operates within local contexts. Though all national parks in Canada with fire managers will be in some way implicated in the project, four sites will be focused on so as to highlight local articulations of the agency’s action and relationships with local (non-Aboriginal) land managers. The four sites the PI would like to include are: Gulf Islands National Park and Reserve, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Banff National Park, and Wood Buffalo National Park. Wood Buffalo is the main park of interest to this separate application. These sites may change and will hinge on partnership with local respondents. The aim is to see how the work done by scientists and managers at the national level unfold at the local level. Here interviews with other Parks Canada staff and neighbouring land managers will be necessary. As fire can ignore the lines drawn by jurisdiction, this second level of empirical work aims to consider fire in a context that acknowledges the mosaic of jurisdiction that environmental disturbance events, like fire, unfold within.

Participants, all of whom will be adults, will be interviewees who fit into three groups:

1) Staff and administration working for Parks Canada, with particular emphasis with those associated with fire management and science.
- The PI anticipates interviewing the 50 individuals who work full-time on fire management and science throughout the Parks Canada system. These will be in person with the exception of extremely remote field units in the northern territories, northern Manitoba and Newfoundland which may be complete by phone. Those in remote locations may be completed by phone or at events outside of their posting.
- The PI also anticipates interviewing staff who are connected to fire management but do not work for the bureau dealing directly with fire. These include resource managers, park wardens, park superintendents, planners, policy analysts, biologists, ecologists, external relations staff, search and rescue staff, and fire crew staff. The PI anticipates interviewing 20 of these individuals but this number will hinge on access and relevance to local case studies.
- In addition to conducting interviews with members of this group, the research team will conduct participant observation and mapping exercises of their work activities to determine how conservation practice is being rescaled in daily practice.
2) Former Parks Canada staff, with particular emphasis with those who were associated with fire management and science.
- The PI anticipates interviewing up to 10 individuals from this category.
3) Representatives of conservation organizations and land management organization working in and around the possible four national parks.
- The PI anticipates interviewing approximately 30-40 individuals from this group.

This research focuses on federal responses to emerging trends in wildfire ecology. The project hinges on an institutional analysis of the Parks Canada Agency and will include interview with National Park staff in NWT National Parks. At present the PI would like to also interview neighbouring stakeholders involved with fire management, particularly other government or municipal fire managers and ecologists working in the region. Local communities may be interested in the results as it may inform how they continue relationships regarding wildfire management.

The PI will share publications and presentations with all interviewees if they express interest. The project may be of particular interest to communities attempting to prepare alternative land management policies to that provided by the territory. The PI is working on a podcast with colleagues interested in nature-society relations. Once the research is complete, a podcast episode may be devoted to the work. The intention is to create a podcast that might be used in college and university classrooms exploring themes of this variety.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from September 1, 2017 to September 30, 2017.