Bombs Away: New Geographies of Military-to-Wildlife Conversions in the United States Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Havlick, David G.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography
  • From 1988 through 2006, the United States closed nearly two dozen large military sites and reclassified them to become national wildlife refuges. In this dissertation I examine the production of these places, covering more than one million acres of land and marine territory, as they have been represented through political and scientific discourses. In particular, I consider the implications of "ecological militarization," which casts military practices and environmental conservation as compatible activities. Military-to-wildlife (M2W) conversions include some of the nation's worst sites of contamination and most protected ecological habitat. The seeming paradox of these lands creates challenges to wildlife managers and other federal officials as historically restricted military places open to new kinds of public attention and use. The purpose of my research is to examine military-to-wildlife conversions through two main questions: How have these particular landscapes been produced, and how do they then function as public lands? I approach the first of these research questions by asking how M2W sites have been cast by politics, science, and certain narratives to effect their conversion. Second, I assess how these places work as integrations of nature and society to function as new national wildlife refuges, as former military lands, and as new geographies where projects of militarism and environmentalism appear to coincide as complementary endeavors. I apply methods of document and discourse analysis, as well as semi-structured interviews and site visits, to focus on two case studies: the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado, and the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Indiana. These present different details of contamination, remediation, legislation, and public use, but highlight common themes of institutional control, science and technology, and discourse. I conclude that military-to-wildlife conversions and the broader framing of ecological militarization will only contribute to genuine social change, democratic politics, and environmental protection if they are linked to new roles for science and technology, a transfer of institutional control, the publicizing and preservation of M2W landscape productions, and attentiveness to impacts beyond the boundaries of base closure sites.
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  • Kirsch, Scott
  • Open access

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