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From Copper to Conservation: The Politics of Wilderness, Cultural and Natural Resources in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve


The majority of literature on parks and people has criticized U.S park establishment for kicking people out of protected areas (Jacoby 2003, Chase 1987, Cronon 1996). The consequences of imposing the U.S. model for parks and wilderness has most often been examined in the context of under resourced countries focusing on the impact of native societies within that landscape (Neumann 1998, Solnit, 2000, Brockington, Duffy and Igoe 2008, Dowie 2009). My dissertation extends prior park scholarship by examining the opposite: What happens when people are allowed to remain living within a designated wilderness area and national park in a “first world” setting? In 1980 the National Park Service began the trials of managing what historian Theodore Catton referred to as “inhabited wilderness.” Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) establishing more than 100 million acres of federal land in Alaska as new or expanded conservation areas, doubling the national park system and tripling the amount of land designated as wilderness. The ANILCA compromise set the legislative framework for federal land managers to balance the national interest in Alaska's scenic and wildlife resources with the acknowledgement of Alaska's distinctive rural way of life, legally recognizing the ongoing interaction between people and nature. Using Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve as a case, I examine the history and politics of wilderness management, natural and cultural resource management, including subsistence. Combing approaches in political ecology and environmental history, I evaluate whose voices have had the most influence in shaping these policies, and the extent to which various park residents have benefited from an “inhabited wilderness.” Informal interviews, participatory observation, and archival research, examine these processes. Employing an analytic strategy that evaluates the interaction of the local and national narratives about national park management, I pay particular attention to how narratives have changed over time. Implications for managers, and future research are discussed.

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