NEWS | WildCRU Conservation Geopolitics Forum 19th – 22nd March 2019, Oxford, UK

Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

Next week, members of the BIOSEC team head to Oxford for the WildCRU Conservation Geopolitics forum. See below for the sessions the team are involved in:

Plenary on Wednesday 20th March

Auditorium, Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre
15:20 – 15:45 Thinking (geo)politically: A political ecology of conservation and global security
Professor Rosaleen Duffy, University of Sheffield

Conservation is, and always has been, (geo)political. While there has been a recent ‘security turn’ in conservation, it is important to place this in wider historical context. From the inception of the conservation movement at the height of British Imperial ambitions, to current responses to the illegal wildlife trade, geopolitics has infused conservation thinking and practice. I offer a political ecology reading of conservation to tease out the multiple ways in which conservation and geopolitics can intersect. I will focus on responses to the illegal wildlife trade as an illustrative example. The spikes in poaching of elephants and rhinos forged a renewed sense of urgency in conservation, a call to do something to tackle poaching and trafficking before they drive species to extinction. On the surface this seems to be a story about conservation and how it is changing in response to an emergency. However, I will look more deeply into these shifts and reveal how it is actually a story about capitalism, the security industry it sustains, the interests of powerful actors in the international system and the fundamental restructuring of our relationships with nature.

Presentations and Panels on Thursday 21st March 2019

Stream 1: Auditorium, Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre
08:54-09:18 The geopolitical priorities of US biodiversity conservation: mapping the activities and funding of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Affairs Program
Francis Massé and Jared Margulies, University of Sheffield, UK

In this paper we contribute to an understanding of conservation geopolitics, and what conservation geopolitics might do, through a multi-scalar analysis of international conservation funding. Using the case of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) International Affairs Program – the US Government’s lead wildlife agency – we combine quantitative and spatial analysis with in-depth qualitative data to develop a framework for researching questions related to conservation geopolitics and what such a politics might look like. We ask the following: What types of activities is the USFWS International Affairs program funding, and where? Are there changes over time in what, who, and which geographies receive funding? How, if at all, do these changes overlap with evolving discourses around wildlife crime and other geopolitical priorities? We answer these questions through a two-fold process. First, we conducted a global meta-analysis of 3,800 projects funded by USFWS since 2002. Second, we interviewed personnel in USFWS, other conservation and security organisations, and conducted place-based research to understand how funding decisions are made, influenced, and with what implications. What emerges is a picture of the macro and micro trends and dynamics that constitutes an empirically rigorous and conceptually innovative approach to doing and understanding conservation geopolitics.

Stream 1: Auditorium, Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre
11:24-11:48 Encountering ‘the Border’: Geopolitical Ecologies of Sturgeon Conservation
Hannah Dickinson, University of Sheffield, UK

Sturgeon are the most critically endangered group of species (IUCN, 2010) and have been driven to near extinction as a result of the global demand for their caviar. Given the geographical distribution of wild sturgeon in rivers and seas that intersect international boundaries, efforts to conserve sturgeon have subsequently become entangled in complex scenarios which fall under the rubric of “Conservation Geopolitics”.

Borders and boundaries are inherently geopolitical, playing a central role in geopolitical thought and practice. Moreover, borders pose numerous questions and challenges for conservation, and conservation is said to ‘animate’ borders (Ramutsindela, 2015). As such, the paper utilises ‘borders’ as a heuristic device to consider the ‘Geopolitical Ecology’ of sturgeon conservation. The paper considers how ‘the border’ is variably encountered by both human and nonhuman actors via efforts to conserve and secure sturgeon populations.

Conceptualising borders in their multiplicitous forms – as physical objects; as a practice; and as metaphors – the paper makes the case that conservation of sturgeon both creates borders, and is impeded or challenged by borders. Interrogating these border dynamics – of creation and restriction – is revealing of ecologies of multi-species (geo)political encounter, that extend far beyond the ostensible aim of sturgeon conservation.

Stream 1: Auditorium, Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre
14:48-15:06 How the geopolitics of transport corridors are shaping conservation futures in sub-Saharan Africa

Charis Enns and Brock Bersaglio University of Sheffield, UK

The world is experiencing one of the most explosive eras of infrastructure development in history. As the global economy expands ever further into new frontiers of commodity and energy production, demand for new and improved transport infrastructure has skyrocketed. This transport infrastructure boom is particularly notable in sub-Saharan Africa, where vast networks of railways, roads, and pipelines are being constructed to open isolated parts of the continent for investment. A growing body of academic literature claims that these ‘transport corridors’ are fuelling environmental degradation, habitat fragmentation, and the illegal wildlife trade. Yet, such claims largely overlook the fact that transport corridors are also paving the way for new investments in eco-tourism, protected areas, and renewable energy. In this paper, we examine this seemingly paradoxical trend of transport corridors simultaneously driving both the degradation and conservation of the environment. Specifically, we consider the types of conservation futures emerging as the geopolitical interests of different global actors – e.g. Chinese investment in infrastructure and British investment in conservation – come into contact with each other along transport corridors in sub-Saharan Africa. Our analysis is based on research carried out along transport corridors in Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia between 2014 and 2018.