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The Politics of Collaboration: Producing Restoration Knowledge and Practice in the Feather River Headwaters


This research project situates a long-term collaborative effort to restore headwaters meadows within the political, institutional, and historical contexts that have shaped relations of power over watershed resources in the Feather River region. The study addresses a need in the literature for more nuanced studies of the ways that collaborative environmental governance takes shape within and engages these contexts and what the implications are for resource control and access. Using a grounded approach, informed by several bodies of theory from governance, political ecology, and science and technology studies, the project first locates collaboration as part of an ongoing history of resource politics in the United States and then identifies three key loci where collaboration catalyzed renegotiations of politics and power in the Feather River case. These loci are 1) the collaborative production of restoration knowledge and practice in response to both biophysical and social conditions of the watershed, 2) the development of new policy frames that enabled members of the headwaters community to challenge the invisibility of watersheds in California water supply policy and make new political claims against historically powerful downstream interests, and 3) the participation of the U.S. Forest Service, which facilitated collaborative restoration projects and efforts to increase the visibility of headwaters but declined to take on more controversial policy changes. Taken together, these findings portray a complex relationship between collaboration, power, and politics. Knowledge production and policy reframing were important sources of power that grew from collaboration. Although limited by the durability of long-standing relations of resource control in wider institutional and political contexts, collaboration created power for headwaters actors to effect innovative restoration solutions and motivate wider policy changes with benefits to headwaters communities and ecosystems.

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