The Greater Sage-grouse Conservation-Resource Complex

Jae Ju: Hi everyone, my name is Jae and I am a Communication Science and Social Inquiry Major with a minor in Political Science. I am from Northern Virginia (Ashburn.) I am currently in my last semester here at Virginia Tech. Though I have enjoyed my time here I can’t wait to see what graduation and post-college is going to be like. My hobbies include video games, watching golf, playing golf, and looking at golf equipment. I also enjoy watching well-made films and also love to spend my free time catching up on sleep – ‘cause let’s be honest, you can always use sleep throughout the day

Mel Hillelsohn: Hey guys! My name is Mel and I am a Junior double majoring in Political Science and Sociology under the Women’s and Gender Studies option. I’m also from Northern Virginia in Herndon and I’m looking at continuing my education after I graduate next spring! I am really into plants and have been hand propagating plant clippings for years to help my wallet and I hand paint pots because I love painting as well as many other art forms! I did photography for four years specializing in nature photography and worked on a farm for a year and helped them make a compost system!

Camden Carpenter: Hello! My name is Camden and I am a Senior majoring in Smart and Sustainable Cities with a minor in Real Estate. I’m one of the very few Virginia Tech students from Virginia Beach, and I try to embody Carpe Diem in all that I do. I hope to pursue my passion for real estate development in graduate school this fall, so fingers crossed! Most of my time is spent at the beach, searching for the perfect matcha latte, or experimenting with short-term hobbies like bullet journaling. 

Luke, Chapter 3: “The Dreams of Deep Ecology”, goes in-depth on what Deep Ecology is and the science and the philosophy behind it. The chapter starts off with exploring the current situation of our society and how we got to the point where we are. The chapter explains deep ecology as “ The foundations of deep ecology are the basic intuitions and experiences of ourselves and nature which compromise ecological consciousness.” (Luke, 2019, pg. 873 ). I think that when people think of our society, we tend to separate humans from non-humans. But in reality, don’t we all live in the same environment? What is the point in separating species if we all live at the same place? This introduces the idea of biocentrism. Biocentrism argues that “all things in the biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom and to reach their own individual forms of unfolding and self-realization” (Luke, 2019, pg.896). We need to keep in mind that everyone in the biosphere has its own purpose on earth. If we as a society can’t integrate every form of species in the biosphere, it leads to “creative destruction”. This is because when we only focus on one part of the ecological spectrum, we are completely putting off the “others”. An example of this is, if there was a government movement that aimed to conserve the water resources here in the United States, yes, this movement would benefit the animals and the ecosystem, however, who does this hurt? It would hurt the water industry. By limiting the resources that they have access to, it is hurting the water and mineral sectors of the economy. 

The picture above shows the integration that we need to be implementing. There shouldn’t be tiers of species like the picture on the left. By being able to integrate all living species together, we can think of every species as a whole family instead of having multiple families living under the same roof. By doing so, we eliminate the “other” when it comes to making important decisions regarding the environment.  

Today, modern technology and industrial production create “creative destruction”. Following World War II, America entered this phase in society called the Industrial Revolution. During this revolution, we as a society rapidly innovated and this was the time in our history in which the idea of capitalism was really engraved into our society. With all these innovations, we were forgetting the destruction that comes with these innovations. “In the years following WWII, smog, man-made radioactive elements, DDT, detergents and synthetic plastics (Luke, 2019)” were some of examples in what we would call a “creative destruction.” These are the “bad things” in which we tend to forget about when it comes to manufacturing something. As a society, we only see the positives in which this new invention can improve the lives of our society, but we never see the other side of it. For example, let’s observe landfills. Landfills were designed so that we can accumulate all of our waste into one area. From a broader perspective, this is a good idea because all of our waste is in one location, but what is the downside? The downside is that the trash will keep on accumulating unless we do something about it. What is this “it” though? If we burn the trash, it benefits the human society because we can make more trash whenever we want, but when we burn trash, we release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. So we have to ask ourselves, is this all worth doing? 

These are the 8 principles of deep ecology elaborated by Arne Naess and George Sessions. They are considered to be the prominent exponents of deep ecology. 

  1. the well-being of human and nonhuman life on earth has intrinsic values, separate from human uses or purposes;
  2. the diverse richness of all life-forms contributes to realizing these intrinsic values;
  3. humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity of life except to satisfy vital needs;
  4. the flourishing of human life and culture is compatible with a substantial decrease in human populations—indeed, the flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease;
    1. Luke disagrees with this point because he points out the fact that nobody has the decision to decrease human population nor do they have the means to. In developing countries, more human life promotes the life and prosperity of that developing nation. 
  5. human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive and worsening;
  6. policies must be changed to transform economic, ideological, and technological structures into a situation much different from the present;
  7. human satisfaction must shift to appreciating the quality of life (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to higher material standards of living;
  8. those who subscribe to these points have an obligation, directly or indirectly, to try to implement the necessary changes.

Preface: The Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming: A Technonatural Study

The preface of the dissertation shares the environmental political aspect of working with Greater sage-grouse in Wyoming. What is Greater Sage-grouse?, Take a look above. At first, the creature looks like a cross-over between a peacock and a chicken. The problem is, these days the Greater Sage-grouse are being forced out of their habitat. The preface to The Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming: A Technonatural Study explores how certain industries have been pushing these animals out of their habitat, and it also explores how animal conservation programs are being critically explored. The ultimate question that the author asks in order to dive deeper into this is “whose environment is the Environmental Defense Fund defending?” And he answers this question in four different chapters. The first chapter part identifies the author’s theoretical and methodological terms and commitments. The second chapter being the examination of Greater Sage-grouse across the state of Wyoming. The third chapter analyzes the development in market-based conservation instruments (MBIs) by the Wyoming Conservation Exchange , and lastly, the fourth part shows the industrial partners that helped with administering and implementing the resources. 

Introduction: The Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming: A Technonatural Study 

The introduction questions the environment that the Environmental Defense Fund is truly defending. 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 (Stubberfield, 2019, abstract).

Wyoming’s declining sage-grouse population has been negatively impacted by urban development, mining, agricultural use, and recent oil and gas extraction (Stubberfield, 2019, 7). 

The Wyoming Core Area Protection (CAP) was created to avoid losing nearly a quarter of the state’s total surface area to sage-grouse conservation. It limited or entirely prevented development that would disturb the species’ habitat. However, CAP was created with loopholes to allow for continued industrial development and resource extraction. The state’s true motive was to proceed with gas and coal extraction, rather than conserving the sage-grouse and its home. The natural gas boom has led Wyoming to become more invested in increasing and expanding capital. Excessive fossil fuel extraction has led to the state’s domination of the sage-grouse’s habitat, which causes habitat fragmentation and destruction. 

It is integral to understand the environment that the Environmental Defense Fund truly protects. Stubberfield compares the environment of the now-endangered sage-grouse to the environment. He introduces technonaturalization which defines new combinations of material and energy as they display the instrumentalization, and technologization of the planet in attempts to address perceived environmental problems (Stubberfield, 2019, 20-21). In the case of the sage-grouse, Stubberfield defines the indirect relationship between natural gas and the birds’ habitat in Wyoming. Fossil fuel extraction could halt and encourage the conservation of the bird, or fossil fuel extraction could continue and result in habitat fragmentation. 

Therefore, the sage-grouse is being transformed into a political instrument as the state’s conservation efforts are disguised as green governmentality while the state’s primary focus is actually economic gain through fossil fuel extraction. Stubberfield ends the chapter by introducing an ecocritique of the negative influences conservation attempts have had on the sage-grouse habitat. 

 Its relevance to the issue lies in addressing the changing relationships between land, people, and capital and how they have transitioned the efforts of conservation from legitimate habitat preservation to capital-driven fossil fuel extraction. 

Death Chapter 19: Resource Violence

Watts and Peluso start chapter 19 on the premise that most natural resources have become entrenched in political discourse with the control and access to these resources being an important part of governance. Case studies include Indonesia’s forests which have been privy to insurrections and violence over access to land, resources, and territory which allows us to ultimately see how our concept of the environment and nature is transformed into resources that have a value. This relates directly to the Luke reading as we see that there is no single identifiable form of the environment, but it becomes a part of our lives in new ways as we conceptualize possibilities of use for our surroundings that change as we develop over time.

The Indonesian forests are historically intertwined with violence as insurgencies have been staged from the forested territories which helped form the idea of national forests as a political component of the Indonesian nation-state (Watts 2014, 184). Through this conceptualization of the forest in law came the formation of distinct governing agencies such as the Department of Forestry in which control was centralized by the military and elites to allow for the benefit from profitable resources and corporations (Watts 2014, 185). The Basic Forestry Act and New Forestry Law both saw major forestry concessions to corporations that attempted to stimulate economic growth, but substantially marginalized forest-based communities (Watts 2014, 185-186). Through the creation of these laws and instating bureaucratic organizations to oversee the management of land and natural resources, we see how the authors illustrate how states identify features of their environment and create regulatory agencies to oversee the dissemination of these resources to positively bolsters the nation.

In the late 1960s through the 1980s, there was a major push by national and international institutions for the forest development of Indonesia, allowing international investment to bolster the parastatal forest service. The Indonesian government referred to the dual nature of the military of repression and development, and with the increased entrepreneurial efforts the forest guards were armed and militarized to protect what became the dominant site of tropical timber trade and teak product production (Watts 2014, 186). As the tropical forest coverage is the third most extensive in the world, it is not surprising that the forest products industry generates almost 7% of the Indonesian GDP (Watts 2014, 186). The perception of security continues to vary as the economic environment has dramatically changed and private militias with political ties to the state are hired by companies with ventures in the Indonesian forests to preserve their efforts. Specifically, colonial military forces evaluated a high value on teak as an extremely desirable ship-building material that seemingly justifies the dispossession and deployment of people left landless living in Java for extraction purposes (Watts 2014, 187). Although the military is organizationally representing the state in these cases, the sites they guard are often illegally accessed and utilized for the extortion and criminal acquisition of resources. While the land between Malaysia and Indonesia was divided up and allocated amongst those that retire after military service, all military branches were considered responsible for financing more than 60% of their operating budgets (Watts 2014, 188).

Nigeria has been characterized by a violent democracy and the Niger Delta oil fields have been a nexus of insurgency and crime. From the mid-1950s to the 1970s oil transformed Nigeria into a petrostate in which there exists a shadow economy that profits as 55 million barrels of oil are stolen each year and greater than 80% of oil revenues go to the richest 1% of the population (Watts 2014, 189). Over the last decade GDP per capita and life expectancy have both fallen as the number of those living in poverty with little to no income has grown to 90 million (Watts 2014, 189). Communities across the delta were promised compensation and benefits for loss of land, and although companies did make alliances with members of local chieftaincy systems, ultimately oil resource wealth was not invested in infrastructure which is an omission of secular national development (Watts 2014, 189). The oil resource complex is constructed through two forms of logic. The first is the state’s acquisition of oil rents with laws and rules regarding monopolies which creates the foundation for the assertion of differential claims due to all citizens and the centralizing power of oil (Watts 2014, 190). The second logic observes the centralizing effect of revenue allocation in which the ethnically diverse 36 states making up the federal system receive 26.72%  of revenue for governance, but the federal government receives 52.68% (Watts 2014, 190). These disproportionate allocations have facilitated the rise of violent insurrection groups as communities contend for oil bunkering territories. 

Ultimately, Watts and Peluso discern that the resource complex addresses how resources are made into objects of regulation and how they are governed under specific political circumstances is shaped by the centralization and neo-liberalization of states as well as the security complex associated with these resources. The authors use these case studies as they are extremely relevant to their discussion of natural resources with the observation of resource scarcity and the violence and security concerns with dependence on raw materials. This is similar to the case of the Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming as we see the extraction of natural resources becoming a critical element of economic life force that is subject to regulation as the government ensures self interests. In these cases where conflict is often observable, it is considered that a combination of state failures and poor economic performance creates conditions conducive to violence and poor governance. In a case of economic reliance on wealth accumulated from the export and sale of natural resources as the primary industry, the need to tax is no longer relevant so loose political constraints create a dysfunctional economic order. Le Billon understands the various degrees of vulnerability, risk, and opportunity are conducive to the development of the resource curse, resource wars, and resource conflicts through either a coup d’etat, secession, mass rebellion, or warlordism (Watts 2014, 193).