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Rare earth at Bearlodge: anthropocentric and biocentric perspectives of mining development in a multiple use landscape

Abstract

Multiple use livelihoods and recreational activities provide important economic opportunities for communities throughout the American west, especially in rural areas where public lands are the primary income generator. Federal lands also provide incentives for mining development as the “highest and best use” of the land. This tension between civil society, the mining corporation, and the state as dual regulator/facilitator of natural resource development is most apparent during the public comment period of the environmental assessment process. Such is the case with the Bearlodge mine in the Black Hills National Forest of Wyoming, which has the potential to be the only domestic producer of critical rare earth elements. Therefore, I ask: How do perspectives about control of and access to common property resources and the role of humans as part or separate from an ecological system converge or diverge between community, state, and market stakeholders? To answer this, a Q method survey was carried out from groups representative of the different economic and environmental perspectives related to mining development: environmentalists, the mining/energy sector, state/federal regulators, foresters, local land holders, and recreationalists. Results show that stakeholders fall into two categories: anthropocentrists who desire economic development from the mine for human benefit, even given the potential for environmental harm and curtailed access to multiple use activities; and biocentrists who continue to push for a no development alternative where nature is preserved for nature’s sake and existing livelihoods that help to maintain an already altered environment are able to remain and sustain rural economies.

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Acknowledgments

The author would like to express gratitude to the following funders for their financial support that allowed for writing time and field-based research: Santa Cruz-Watsonville Inquiry-Based Learning in Environmental Sciences (NSF GK-12 DGE-0947923); The Benjamin and Ruth Hammett Fellowship for Climate Change and Water Issues; The University of California, Santa Cruz Blum Center on Poverty, Social Enterprise, and Participatory Governance; and the University of California, Santa Cruz Department of Environmental Studies. Furthermore, the author notes that the human subject research carried out was approved through IRB Federalwide Assurance #FWA00002797.

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Jenkins, J. Rare earth at Bearlodge: anthropocentric and biocentric perspectives of mining development in a multiple use landscape. J Environ Stud Sci 7, 189–199 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-016-0412-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-016-0412-7

Keywords

  • Biocentric
  • Anthropocentric
  • Extractive industries
  • Land use conflict
  • Environmental assessment
  • Q-method