Wolf, Oregon by cornandpeas/AdobeStock

Alex Foster (2013, Hertford) introduces his dissertation, 'The-wolf-stalks-at-five-o'clock: A more-than-human, relational approach to livestock depredations in North-East Oregon', which was commended by the RGS-IBG Alfred Steers Dissertation prize judging panel for 2017. This award is made for the best undergraduate dissertation in a UK geography department.

Alex Foster

My dissertation focused on the relationships between wolves and humans in North-East Oregon, USA. To do this, a combination of semi-structured interviews and participant observations were used, with these data analysed through a lens that drew both on philosophies of biology from Gilles Deleuze and Jakob von Uexküll, and scientific literature on wolves as individuals, as groups, and as a species. As wolves in this area, at the time of study, were a protected species, this allowed for the study of negotiations of potential conflict between species, without the employment of elimination methods, such as culling. Thus, the dissertation was able to build upon conversations within animal geography on the notion of conviviality.

Two central conclusions were able to be drawn from this dissertation.

First, the reintroduction of wolves into Oregon has not been a simple case of wolves being fit around humans. Rather, wolves and humans co-negotiate the landscape. Biosecurity interventions such as electric fences and bone piles are used to keep wolves out of certain areas and draw them into others, with GPS collars employed to warn livestock producers of potential wolf locations. Wolves, equally, adjust their behaviours to these interventions so they can move freely in the landscape. This respective shifting of behaviour as a result of the re-establishment of wolves in Oregon can be argued to be add a social dimension to the ecological “Landscape of Fear” concept that has been associated with the rewilding of wolves in Montana, USA.

Second, employing a nonhuman perspective on the landscape (i.e. attempting to see the landscape in the manner that a wolf sees it) forces us to think about the ways of approaching landscapes that are precluded by our very being human, and the limitations that necessarily puts on our abilities to perceive. On this point, the dissertation focused on the stronger sense of smell of wolves, on their circadian, metabolic, and reproductive rhythms, and on their requirements as individuals amongst other wolves in order to provide insight into the lifeworlds of wolves in North-East Oregon. In doing so, the dissertation illustrated how fears about wolves and their confirmed depredation of livestock significantly failed to match with the biological requirements of the number of wolves in the area.

My dissertation therefore calls for a more curious approach to the animal subject in wildlife management schemes, with importance placed on being open to what an animal might become through its interactions with a landscape. Furthermore, it opens up the potential for studying the geographies of animals as subject in themselves, rather than being satisfied with an objective examination of animals.