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Cultural Landscapes: The View from George Wright 2013

In one sense, almost every session at the 2013 George Wright Conference  talked about cultural landscapes. If you define the term broadly – as landscapes affected by the interaction of humans and the environment – then sessions on climate change and adaptation, visitor use, tourism, extractive industries, integrating parks and local communities, and any session or keynote address with the word “anthopocene” in its title fall squarely within this rubric.  There were also sessions that directly examined the meaning of cultural landscapes.   For example:

The panel on Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: Developing a more Inclusive Approach to Large Landscape Conservation presented a concept that is being pioneered in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The approach seeks to identify and describe landscapes from the perspective of indigenous people who lived there at the time of Captain John Smith’s explorations of the bay region. Want to know more ? If you were not able to attend, you can watch Deanna Beacham’s thoughtful and concise presentation of this idea on youtube.

Jim Zorn, the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Indian and Wildlife Commission,  talked about the commission’s work to conserve Ojibwe traditional rights to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice and other resources on lands ceded by treaty. The organization represents eleven tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan and provides natural resource management expertise and conservation enforcement. Their work has expanded to cultural programing including language conservation programs.  And who knew that the NOAA was doing such innovative programs with tribes in Marine Protected Areas.  The agency’s Cultural Heritage Resources Working Group has been making waves in the world of maritime cultural landscapes.

For those who are into trend spotting, new ideas in cultural landscapes include the interest of traditional conservation agencies in expanding their mission to include cultural values and in particular to incorporate the indigenous viewpoint into conservation work.  We can all learn from this.

The 2013 George Wright (GW) conference was challenged by the congressional budget sequester that knocked almost all federal employees off the agenda. However, the conference presenters found inventive ways to work around this obstacle by webcasting the plenary sessions, skyping on the Imperiled History Report, presenting speakers through youtube clips, and such low tech solutions as having a partner present your remarks.  Those in attendance at the conference were the young (many on GW Student Travel Scholarships), the old (mostly committed retirees), the academic (presenting their  research) and thanks again to GW Society attendees with Native Participant Travel Grants.  So mix in some international visitors including representatives of the UN, IUCN, and our neighbors to the north, and you had a conference with a very positive dynamic. But the hard part is that so many up and coming government professionals missed the chance to take away new ideas and this is a loss for the field of cultural landscapes and so much more.