Rewriting conservation landscapes: protected areas and glacial retreat in the high Andes

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Glacial retreat reveals the unsettling effects of anthropogenic climate change, and challenges deeply seated cultural ideas about static landscapes. Glaciers have thus emerged as key signifiers of environmental loss. Because they are the outcomes of Westernized visions of the relationship between nature and culture, protected areas are important sites for understanding how notions of the Anthropocene come to reshape ideas about the future of glaciated landscapes. This article explores one particular conservation initiative, that of the establishment of the tourist and educational facility known as the Route of Climate Change in Peru’s Huascarán National Park. It asks how we can understand the production of conservation landscapes in a context where the framing of glaciers as an endangered species denies their fluctuating dynamics and imparts to them a directionality toward irreversible change. Focusing on the contentious production of conservation landscapes through interaction between the park administration and a local community, the article is based on ethnographic fieldwork consisting of semi-structured interviews (48), informal conversations, and participant observation over multiple visits to the area between 2013 and 2015. The study finds that while the production of new conservation narratives certainly resituates the sites in time and place, it also produces uncertain environmental futures that may be molded to secure a rapprochement between park administrations and communities based on mutual alignment of conservation and community practices. It is thus argued that an underlying shift in orientation—from preserving what is to countering what might otherwise come to be—results in the production of new imaginaries about conservation landscapes that are both a condition and an outcome of protected area management in times of glacial retreat.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1371–1385
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Andes, Climate change, Conservation, Glacier, Imaginary, Landscape, Temporality

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