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The development of assisted migration policy in Canada: An analysis of the politics of composing future forests

Nicole L. Klenk
Land use policy 2015 v.44 pp. 101-109
Dendroctonus ponderosae, Larix occidentalis, climate change, forest policy, forests, invasive species, plantations, planting, politics, risk, trees, British Columbia
One could argue that the development of western larch assisted migration (AM) policy in British Columbia was the result of a “policy window” largely caused by factors external to the actions of policy actors: western larch plantations in northern BC indicate that the species thrives even if planted far beyond its current range, thus representing an economic motive for AM; climate change projections and the mountain pine beetle epidemic represented a crisis situation that facilitated the deployment of a new and controversial policy option, the assisted migration of western larch, in forest policy in British Columbia. However, this “policy window” explanation disregard the relationship between the performative meaning of AM in its social and ecological context, and masks the actual politics of the discursive practices enlisting particular actor-networks in the western larch AM policy process. My analysis suggests that the western larch AM policy emerged from the relationship of specific policy actors with specific non-humans actors—including exotic and invasive species. Yet, aware of potential political risks of deploying this controversial practice, policy actors in British Columbia carefully circumscribed the purpose of western larch AM, distancing the western larch AM policy from exotic and invasive species. Additionally, western larch AM was framed as a natural extension of current tree regeneration standards and best practices in BC—thus seemingly representing “business as usual”, rather than a major reassemblage of the actor-networks structuring forest policy in BC. Comparing western larch policy discourses to policy discourses on AM in other provinces suggest that the differences in what actor-networks are enlisted largely explains why no other province in Canada has yet to develop an assisted migration policy. The policy implications of this study are that in the composition of Canada's future forests we should keep exotic and invasive species present in view.