Settlers and fire: Colin R. Sutherland, Pyrogeography in Context: Encountering Wildland Fire in Canadian National Parks, PhD dissertation, York University, 2020


Abstract: The management of wildland fire in North America is premised on fire suppression, as has been the case for much of the last century. As the roles of wildland fire in ecosystem functions are better understood and the adverse impacts of fire suppression are made clear, wildland fire suppression approaches are being re-evaluated. In protected areas such as Canadian national parks, this realization has led to the reintroduction of fire to park landscapes to achieve ecological and risk reduction goals. Through a multi-sited institutional analysis of Parks Canada, this research explores the complex relationship between conservation, fire management, and the maintenance of value in Canadian national parks. In this study I position Parks Canada within the context of Canadian settler colonialism and Canadian national parks as an ongoing component of the relationship between settlers and Canadian territory. I analyze how fire management has developed and is enacted in Canadian national parks and pay particular attention to the practice of prescribed burning as an alternative to full suppression. I argue that the political-economic context of national parks along with the logics of species conservation and so-called ‘ecological
integrity’ narrate contemporary fire management practices in Canada’s national parks. I also show how a set of more-than-human actors, and the process of fire itself, are enlisted to carry out these mandates while also functioning as important companions in identifying the limits of these
contemporary policies. I argue that Parks Canada’s dominion over fire and landscapes that burn is not absolute and that this is a productive context to think-with in the so-called Anthropocene.

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