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Fire and the creation of landscape regimes: Wildness and interconnections in West Australian forests

  • Author(s): Nyquist, Jon Rasmus
  • Advisor(s): Mathews, Andrew S
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation tells a story about environmental change beginning with a group of people who try to maintain close and systematic connections with the landscape, connections they may be gradually losing. Fire managers in the southwest forest region of Western Australia have been systematically burning the region’s eucalyptus forests with planned and mostly low intensity burns for many decades. Through these practices they have intertwined themselves in bodily, affective, and systematic ways with the landscape. Now, they are going through two major processes of change: climate change, which among other things comes as a long and ongoing drying trend and a tendency for bushfires to be more frequent and more severe; and a transition away from being a region shaped by an extractive industry, namely the timber industry.

Heterogeneity and ambiguity are central elements of fire managers’ modes of engaging with the landscape in this period of change. In the practices of fire managers ambiguity is something quite specific: to be drawn to recognize in the forest simultaneous opposite possibilities, for instance both the possibility of resilience and collapse. Heterogeneity comes in a variety of forms in the practices of fire managers, many of which are oriented around what has burned and what hasn’t. The most important figures of heterogeneity for fire managers are future oriented, emergent and heterogeneities they regard to be something they can create or attain. Through figures of heterogeneity—most importantly a ‘whole-of-forest mosaic’ of burnt and unburnt areas, ‘within-burn patchiness’, and what I call ‘favorable adjacency’, fire managers try to maintain “a regime.” When these forms of heterogeneity are all in the process of being actualized in the landscape this can result in an emergent state—the regime—where the landscape itself projects certain futures.

Further, I ask what happens when the systematic and bodily ties weaken and when the regime may be about to be lost? I argue that apprehensions of weakening ties occur through expectations that become more elastic, by the past becoming a more tenuous precedent for the future, by a changing affective pull of the landscape, and through being a system that may no longer be able to bring about the outcomes it used to. Ultimately, this gives a story of environmental change different from those that dominate discourses both within and outside of academia—a story not of catastrophic newness that confounds people’s attempts at containment and control, but of a landscape that appears to slowly and subtly recede from people’s grasp even while they try to maintain their connections to it.

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