People-Environment Geography

People-Environment Geography is a field of geography broadly concerned with the interconnections between people and the environment. This field is wide-ranging and includes scholarship on themes ranging from human impacts on natural systems, to environmental conflict and struggles over natural resources, to critical analyses of the meaning of 'nature' and 'degradation' and their links with forms of social power. The UW-Madison department officially recognized People-Environment Geography as a field of specialization during the 1970s, but the department has a longer tradition of research in this area. Throughout the 1960s, UW Madison was an intellectual center for 'cultural ecology', a subdiscipline closely allied with anthropology that centers on detailed field research of indigenous resource management to understand how the environment shapes culture and vice versa. Biogeography has also been strong at UW Madison, particularly in light of Thomas Vale's investigation of human impacts on natural systems and alteration of disturbance regimes, such as fire.

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During the 1990s and continuing today, People-Environment geography at UW-Madison has expanded its scope to consider environmental change at broader levels. The emphasis on cultural ecology has broadened to incorporate 'political ecology', a conceptual framework that emphasizes political explanations for environmental problems using nested analytical scales, from local to international. Political ecology also critically addresses narratives of environmental change, representations of nature and struggles over access to natural resources. Beyond political ecology, people-environment geographers at UW-Madison are concerned with ecosystem fragmentation, and the impact of human-induced changes on ecosystem function. People-environment geographers at the UW-Madison have extensive training in both social and natural sciences, particularly ecology. Thus they occupy a 'middle ground' between physical and human geography. People-environment geographers commonly rely on both qualitative and quantitative methods, including remote sensing and GIS. Two particularly strong realms of people-environment research at UW-Madison are environmental history, and the sociopolitical dimensions of environmental change and conservation in developing countries.

Ian Baird is a political ecologist who has a strong interest in social justice. In particular, his research is linked to the proliferation or large economic land concessions; energy development and adaptation (especially in relation to large hydropower dams in the Mekong region); Mekong fisheries management; land and resource tenure; the human dimensions of climate change, especially with regard to the Reduced Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD) framework; forest and non-timber forest product management; and environmental history. The regional focus of his research is mainland Southeast Asia, especially Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

William Cronon works on the environmental history and historical geography of North America, with special focus on the American West and the frontier. He seeks to make past environmental change relevant to contemporary policy debates, and has a special interest in the writing and rhetoric of history and geography.

Holly Gibbs focuses on tropical land-use change and globalization, particularly on the potential to reconcile food security, climate change and conservation goals. She uses data-driven modeling approaches, geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing imagery combined with ground-based data on social and biophysical conditions to document and understand patterns, drivers and consequences of land-use change, particularly in the tropics. 

Lisa Naughton focuses her research on the socio-political dimensions of biodiversity conservation in developing countries, particularly the humid tropics. She is especially interested in wildlife ecology in human-altered landscapes, and in land use and social conflicts around protected areas. In recent years, she has investigated patterns of conflict and coexistence for wolves and people in the Lake Superior region.

Morgan Robertson is a geographer and political ecologist who specializes in the study of wetland policy andmarket-based environmental policy.  He has written extensively on wetland banking, ecosystem services, economic theories of value, and compensation under the Clean Water Act.

Matthew Turner's research falls at the intersection of the political ecology of agropastoral production (resource access and conflict, science studies, land-use analysis); tropical savanna/steppe biogeography (nutrient cycling, range ecology, environmental monitoring); and agrarian and development studies (gender, state-local relations, politics of scale). Regional specialization: Sudano-Sahelian West Africa.

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