Constructing the Klamath: Nature, Culture, and the Management of a Western River

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Albertson, Zander
Western Washington University
Ecosystem management--Klamath River (Or. and Calif.); Dam retirement--Klamath River (Or. and Calif.)--Public opinion; Dam retirement--Environmental aspects--Klamath River (Or. and Calif.); Dam retirement--Social aspects--Klamath River (Or. and Calif.); Dams--Klamath River (Or. and Calif.)--Public opinion; Dams--Environmental aspects--Klamath River (Or. and Calif.); Dams--Social aspects--Klamath River (Or. and Calif.); Environmental Studies; Klamath River (Or. and Calif.); masters theses
thesis / dissertation description
This thesis addresses the sociocultural dimensions of the ongoing debate over the management of the Klamath River in southern Oregon and northern California. I used a social constructionist approach to qualitatively analyze discourse from 165 comments submitted to the Department of Interior in 2011 regarding the proposed removal of four dams on the Klamath River to develop typologies based on ideas of nature and preferred management outcomes. Analysis was informed by literature spanning environmental history, political ecology, historical geography, anthropology, science and technology studies, and sociology. My analysis indicates that commenters drew on diverse and divergent ideas of nature, used competing problem framings, claimed science supported their preferred management outcome, and drew on larger cultural narratives. These ideas and narratives are both culturally embedded and meaningful. In defining nature and what it is good for, commenters invoked ideas of the democratic individual, virtuous pristine nature, deserving yeoman farmer, precisely managed resources, and sacred family heritage. These narratives help to shape the terrain upon which management actions are perceived, valued, and contested, and make management actions symbolic and meaningful beyond their immediate spatial and temporal context. Ultimately, the conflict in the Klamath Basin can be understood as a contest for social power to enact a particular vision for the landscape. I also argue that an appeal to scientific knowledge alone is inadequate to address complex socioecological controversies where factual and normative claims are entangled and management actions are understood not as true or false, but right or wrong.