The Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming: A Technonatural Study
Stubberfield, Alexander Thomas
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This dissertation examines the operation of neoliberal environmentality through the instrumentalization of the Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Wyoming. It treats technological interventions within environmental construction as generating biotic-machinic entanglements termed technonature. I present the formation and operation of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange as a case study of technonatural territorialization connected to global trona and hydrocarbon commodity flows. The theoretical framework elaborates how "the environment" is constructed and governed through tactical instrumental deployments connected to technocratic management allowing economically powerful actors to inscribe their desires within Wyoming's landscape, politics and biota as a function of environmental security related to commodity development. The question motivating this work is "Whose environment is the Environmental Defense Fund defending?" The Greater Sage-grouse has become an object of U.S. Federal environmental governance since the late 1990's. It has experienced significant population declines due to anthropogenic disturbance and habitat loss through industrial action across its range. Wyoming's Sagebrush Steppe contains 37.5% of the remaining range wide population. The grouse was listed as a candidate species under the 1973 U.S. Endangered Species Act triggering responses from Federal, State, and international wildlife management agencies, as well as environmental non-governmental organizations. Wyoming could lose nearly a quarter of its surface should Federal regulations require the designation of critical sage-grouse habitat. Governor Dave Freudenthal signed Executive Order 2008-2 into law in response to the regulatory threat to Wyoming's hydrocarbon and mineral based economy. The grouse, in response was de-listed as a candidate species in 2015 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. EO 2008-2 established the Wyoming Core Area Strategy as a statewide conservation umbrella and laid the framework for a habitat mitigation economy allowing industrial activity to continue within sage-grouse habitat. This incentivized the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to test a market-based instrument – a habitat exchange – within Wyoming. The Greater Sage-grouse is a test species as it is highly sensitive to changes in its environment and this dissertation examines how the habitat mitigation economy advanced by EDF is drawing the grouse into global commodity networks as a territorialization process for global flows of hydrocarbons and minerals. At stake is the ability to write the history of the species, land, and the global environment as EDF develops conservation technologies prioritizing flows critical to the hydrocarbon environment through the technology of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange.
General Audience Abstract
The Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) entered Euro-American scientific study as early as the Lewis and Clark expedition as they explored the Intermountain region of Western North America. The first thorough scientific study of the sage-grouse in the 20th Century, The Sage Grouse in Wyoming, by Dr. Robert Lansing Patterson included the effects of anthropogenic disturbance on grouse populations. Since the 1952 publication of Patterson's study, Greater Sage-grouse numbers have been declining as the bird loses its home to encroachments such as urbanization, agriculture, grazing, mining, and fossil fuel extraction. The last stronghold of the grouse is the Sagebrush Steppe within Wyoming containing nearly 40% of the remaining population. Known for its flamboyant mating displays, the ground-dwelling avian species has become a political flashpoint in conservation, land management, and environmental circles as its numbers declined steadily since the 1990's due to an accelerating energy boom threatening its habitat. The bird became a threat to extractive industry in Wyoming at the turn of the Millennium as environmentally concerned groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (UFWS) to evaluate its populations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Nearly a quarter of Wyoming's surface would be strictly policed as critical habitat were the grouse listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. Wyoming and its partners created the Wyoming Core Area Protection Strategy (CAP) as a wildlife management framework through Executive Order 2008-2. The Wyoming CAP includes the foundation of a habitat mitigation economy allowing industry to trade surface disturbances within critical sage-grouse habitat for modified land purportedly to the benefit of the species. The Nature Conservancy invited the Environmental Defense Fund to form the Wyoming Conservation Exchange – a market-based conservation instrument tailored to trading in habitat mitigation credits. This dissertation studies the Wyoming Conservation Exchange as an instrument connected to larger networks of wildlife management agencies, non-governmental organizations, and mining and fossil fuel interests. It evaluates the effects of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange and the economy it seeks to establish as changing how the environment is managed across the Sagebrush Steppe. Environmental Defense Fund's conservation instrument is reviewed through the economy created for and through the Greater Sage-grouse as an object of environmental governance. Habitat offsetting can, has and will change the physical, and political environment of Wyoming allowing powerful actors to write the rules of how the environment should be managed. As such, this dissertation questions whose environment the Environmental Defense Fund is defending as it explores sage-grouse management within the state.
- Doctoral Dissertations