literature,  muskox

Diverse values

Damned if you do, dammed if you don't
Damned if you do, dammed if you don’t

Yesterday I had an article, “Damned If You Do, Dammed If You Don’t: Debates on Dam Removal in the Swedish Media,” published in Ecology and Society on the ways that different people think about the landscape created by hydropower dams. Some people, particularly ecologists and environmental activists, want to remove old dams to restore the flow of the river. They are hoping to increase fish populations and bring back the ‘natural’ watercourse. Others who live near the dam often object because they value the recreational, cultural heritage, and aesthetic values of the pond created by the dam.

The observation that different groups may value different things in the same landscape applies to reintroduction as well. While scientists in the 21st century may advocate bringing the beaver back to Scotland to restore wetlands that have been drained (i.e. they value the ecological function of the beaver), the public most often discusses the beaver’s reintroduction as a moral issue (i.e. they want to return the beaver to make up for their ancestors having killed it). Those who object to the reintroduction often place higher value on the agricultural landscape than a swampy one. In the 1920s reintroduction in Sweden, the motivation was not based on ecology in our modern sense, but rather cultural heritage: the beaver was understood as ‘missing’ from a landscape that was filled with stories and memories of the animal.

A sign in Dovre.
A sign in Dovre. Photo by Bushman.K. Creative Commons license BY-NY 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bushman_k/7540785144/

The muskox is a perfect example of divergent values in reintroduction. In general, the scientists I’ve read don’t consider the muskox a valid reintroduction in Norway because of the length of time that the species was absent. Scientists have not identified any significant ecological benefit of the muskox being in Norway and the animal itself is not considered in danger of extinction. However, the muskox has recreational value for tourism, cultural heritage value as the symbol of Dovrefjell National Park, and aesthetic value as a part of the landscape. Although these values are not based on science, muskox is a valued reintroduced species on other grounds. Just look at the images that come up when you google search for ‘Dovrefjell National Park’ – it is dominated by muskox!

Recognising the diverse functions that a reintroduced animal can serve will help me keep a plethora of voices in my environmental histories, rather than letting one group or idea drown out the debate.

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