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Sinead Earley

Ph.D Student, Geography

The History To The Future of Forest Management - A Multidimensional Practice


PHoto of Sinead Earley

Sinead Earley where she loves to be - in a forest

By Sharday Mosurinjohn

May 3rd 2013

There’s a part of Geography PhD Candidate Sinead Earley that’s surprised at having landed at Queen’s and remained in Kingston for so long. The British Columbia native grew up traveling with her father to his birthplace of Ireland every few years, and has incorporated travel into part of her research methodology. After an undergraduate degree in History at the University of British Columbia, Earley earned an MA at the National University of Ireland’s Interdisciplinary Studies program in Culture and Colonialism. Since then, she’s also traveled to Hungary and the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Earley’s fondness for her home province has taken her back each summer. “Landed,” evidently, is a relative term. “I’ve developed a mobile sense of home,” she offers, “and I try to find something endearing in every place I go.”

One of the ways she’s established a local connection while working on her project Beetles, forests, and climates in British Columbia, Canada: historical geographies of forest entomology and forest management, 1945 – present, under the supervision of Dr. Laura Cameron and Dr. Warren Mabee, has been to get involved with food sustainability and community history projects. Earley came to these initiatives through her involvement in the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), which originated in 2004 as “a confederation of researchers and educators who work at the intersection of nature and history,” seeking to provide a context in which to understand today’s environment in light of “a clear understanding of its past” (NiCHE website).

For her part, Earley has acted mostly as a “linker,” connecting interested Queen’s students with community groups who could use their help with a variety of activities, from the annual fall gathering with the New Farm Project, to collecting oral histories from older farmers as part of the Tay Valley Township Council’s preparation for its 200th anniversary celebration. During the 2013 Winter term, Earley even got to hire Work Study students as part of her role in making campus-community connections. She also produced a short documentary film of conversations with community members about agricultural history.

Earley has found that, with farmers, the art of conversation is far from dead. “Storytelling is a big part of having your life integrated with the land – with farmland, with forests, with water bodies,” she reflects. In her own mixed methods work, Earley foregrounds a narrative approach to presenting the data she’s gathered from archival research and interviews. Her interviews strive to represent a range of individuals and groups affected by forest management practices, including forestry industry administrators, forestry labourers, settler community members, and First Nations community members.

Earley knows the value of the different perspectives developed through these roles because she herself has occupied a variety of positions in forestry. Having staggered her previous degrees by alternating a year of school with a year of travel and work, Earley has accrued nine years of forestry experience doing everything from tree planting, managing crews, working in tree nurseries, conducting forest regeneration surveys, and performing quality reforestation checks for lumber mills.

Research in forest management has mostly gone into the reaping, harvesting, or technical side of things, she explains, treating what is really a complex set of socio-ecological issues “like a crop.” Creative approaches to reforestation lag drastically behind. Earley’s doctoral research “brings a historical-geographical interpretation of forest management in British Columbia” by using the case study of “the most recent and most extensive Dendroctonus ponderosae(mountain pine beetle) outbreak that has occurred in the south-central interior the province.” This case study offers a way to reflect on the impact of previous forest management practices on the current situation as well as the sociocultural meanings encoded in different responses to the outbreak.

Earley will be returning to B.C. this summer to complete the bulk of her fieldwork, gathering aspects of the industrial narrative, the labour narrative, and the narrative of the material world. “I’m fascinated by representational practices – how material entities like the mountain pine beetle have significant agency in the story,” she elaborates. “I’m also very interested in the future of forest practice. I think my interdisciplinarity comes from my big-picture way of thinking.” In her estimation, concerns spanning from the history to the future of forest management – a multidimensional practice involving fire suppression, silvicultural methods (the cultivation of forest trees), approaches to insect control and study (forest entomology), and social and cultural politics – necessitates this kind of approach. At an ecological moment such as the one facing us in the 21st century, big thinking for the future of forests couldn’t be more timely.

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