Reevaluating the Co-management Success Story

  • Paul Nadasdy
Keywords: traditional knowledge, cooperative management, space, time, trust, power, Dall sheep, wildlife, First Nations, Yukon


The integration of science and traditional knowledge (TEK), a cornerstone of contemporary cooperative management, entails translating First Nation people's life experiences into forms compatible with state wildlife management (e.g., numbers and lines on maps), with all the risks of distortion inherent in any translation process. Even after such a translation, however, knowledge-integration remains fraught with difficulties, many of which seem on the surface to be technical or methodological. Surprisingly, despite these difficulties, the literature is full of accounts of successful co-management. I call for a more critical and nuanced analysis of co-management, one that takes different perspectives into account and calls into question what we mean by "success" in the first place. To this end, I examine the case of the Ruby Range Sheep Steering Committee (RRSSC), a co-management body in the southwest Yukon that some have held up as a model of success. Over the course of three years, RRSSC members gathered information about Dall sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) from many sources and managed to express it all in forms compatible with scientific wildlife management. Yet, even then - with a single exception - RRSSC members failed to integrate their knowledge about sheep. Although there were numerous technical and methodological obstacles to knowledge-integration, the underlying reasons for this failure were ultimately political. Thus, a focus on the political dimensions of knowledge-integration is essential to an understanding and assessment of co-management.