Fire use, landscape transition, and the socioecological strategies of households in the French Western Pyrenees
Coughlan, Michael Reed
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Dissertation research investigated the historical ecology of pastoral fire use and landscape change among Basque farmers in the French Western Pyrenees. The research focused on social institutions, legacies of land use and management, and spatial contexts of socioecological interaction. Specifically, I investigated fire use practices, historical land use and ownership, and the historical demography of households on the French side of the French-Spanish border in the rural mountain village of Larrau. I combined ethnographic methods and historical data with geospatial analytical tools to examine the socioecological dynamics of change and persistence in the landscape. Results show the degree to which the influence of social institutions on fire ecology has affected change and persistence in the landscape over the long term. While individual households greatly control the extent and character of pastoral fire use at the parcel level, inter-household institutions have conversely little influence on the practice itself. Landscape patterns persist partly as a result of the parcel level fire regimes that emerge from the socioeconomic strategies of individual households. On the other hand, historical differences in land use intensity between households and inter-household property institutions are strongly associated with spatial variation in fire management and land use over the long term. In addition, the socioeconomic strategies of individual households are strongly associated with the pace and character of landscape changes that have occurred over the last two centuries. This study highlights the importance of social institutions and socioeconomic strategies for understanding spatial and temporal variability in landscape transitions. In particular, this study suggests that the human use of fire as a land management tool is neither culturally nor demographically determined, but highly dependent on the institutional context of land use and tenure. Further, the influences of regional and global scale socioeconomic factors on land use and management are mediated by the local institutional context. These findings have important implications for both the historical ecology of fire use and for the practical implementation fire management.