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Making Space for Mexican Wolves: Technology, Knowledge and Conservation Politics

By Paula D. Decker

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The use of geospatial technologies, including radio telemetry, GPS collars, and mapping software, has proliferated in wildlife conservation. In addition to being tools for research, though, tracking devices are increasingly used to control animals that have been reintroduced to natural areas. Animals with radio or GPS collars can be tracked, and when considered necessary, trapped and relocated or removed to captivity, a common practice in projects to reintroduce and conserve endangered carnivores. The assumption is that such actions will help to defuse conflicts over wildlife between wildlife managers and land users. Conservation has come to mean surveillance and control, a situation recently made possible by technology. This dissertation examines the role of geospatial technology in conservation through an examination of the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project taking place in Arizona and New Mexico. Major findings include: 1. Policies to monitor and control Mexican wolves represent a deferral of the struggle over priority uses of public lands; 2. State and local government agencies seized on the discourse of adaptive management to gain control over the reintroduction project and expand their institutional authority. Rather than a practice of "learning by doing" and collaboration, however, the adaptive management program that was implemented only operated smoothly when it held together a prior political consensus and fell apart when external factors worked to dissolve that consensus; 3. The policies of controlling "problem wolves" rest on a series of assumptions about human and wolf behavior that are unsubstantiated and likely false; 4. The embodied production of geospatial data about Mexican wolves is erased in project-authored maps, which privilege a partial perspective on Mexican wolf distribution and territory; and 5. The practices of Mexican wolf monitoring and control are best understood as political technologies of governance that constitute Mexican wolves as individualized, domesticated and, I argue, racialized subjects. The policies and practices governing the Mexican wolf reintroduction project, this dissertation shows, have relied on technological surveillance and control, with complex and contradictory results for people-wolf relations and the politics of conservation.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2013
Pages 320
Publisher The University of Arizona
Department Geography
Degree PhD
Language English
University University of Arizona
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Conservation
  4. Geographic information systems
  5. Geography
  6. Mammals
  7. Mexico
  8. Policy and Planning
  9. Wild animals
  10. wildlife conservation
  11. wildlife management
  12. Wolves