Coffee Hour: Trouble in Paradise: Conflict over Introduced Wildlife on Alaska's Kodiak Archipelago

Friday, February 3, 2012 - 3:30pm
Refreshments offered at 3:30 p.m. in 319 Walker Building Talk begins at 4:00 p.m. in 112 Walker Building

 afognak panoramic view


This lecture will focus on the politics of wildlife management in Alaska through a case study of introduced wildlife on the Kodiak Archipelago. Kodiak is a landscape of wildlife abundance, including introduced Sitka black-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk, mountain goats, reindeer, beavers, Vancouver Canada geese, and Plains bison.

Elk Herd



























Despite abundance, people have experienced significant conflict and dissatisfaction with wildlife populations and management systems. Drawing on work in environmental history and political ecology, Tennessen argues that the paradox of conflict amidst abundance is caused by the persistence of competing unfulfilled visions for Kodiak amongst stakeholders, as well as uneven power between groups.

Each stakeholder group idealizes a different Kodiak. Alutiiq villagers have envisioned Kodiak as a cornucopia for opportunistic wildlife harvesting, and have incorporated introduced wildlife into their subsistence lifestyles. Commercial hunters have imagined Kodiak as a profitable, private wildlife ranch for their clients seeking trophies. Wildlife managers have pictured Kodiak as a pristine wilderness where the “balance of nature” has been recovered through introduced wildlife eradications.

Each of these competing visions has remained unfulfilled for various reasons that we will explore. In the conclusion, Tennessen suggests ways in which wildlife-related conflicts on Kodiak and throughout Alaska can be minimized and allocation can be fairer.

advisory council






















Travis Tennessen is an environmental historical geographer interested in the ways that people categorize and compete over access to land and animals. He spent much of his childhood on the Kodiak archipelago in Alaska amidst the multitudes of introduced wildlife and the human communities that he now studies. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison beginning in 2000, where he quickly fell in love with Geography. Tennessen worked as a field and lab assistant for Professor Jim Knox during his undergraduate years, studying the fluvial geomorphology of the Upper Mississippi River watershed. His senior thesis was a geomorphic and land-use history of a small watershed in southwestern Wisconsin.

In graduate school, environmental history and governance in North America became Tennessen’s primary research focuses under the supervision of Professor William Cronon. From 2004 through 2006, Tennessen conducted master’s research on environmental conflicts between ranchers and land-preservation advocates in the Little Missouri Badlands of western North Dakota. Differing ideas about the category “wilderness” were the primary source of contention between stakeholders in North Dakota. As a continuation of this work, during the past several years Tennessen has been leading groups of university students to North Dakota to learn about the region’s environmental, economic, and political issues. Oil and natural gas drilling, rather than wilderness, have become the hot topics there of late.

His dissertation research focused on competing viewpoints regarding “nativeness” of both people and wildlife on the Kodiak archipelago and how those viewpoints are manifested in state and federal governance systems. This work provided the opportunity to interview people and dig through archives in his old stomping grounds. It has yielded insights into the incredible changes that Kodiak’s wildlife landscape has experienced in the past century and the uneven power relations between stakeholders. This research pushes forward academic discussions regarding the relationships between indigenous people and wildlife and the difficulties of community-based natural resource management, and also aims to help streamline wildlife governance and reduced conflict in Alaska. Tennessen defended his Ph.D. dissertation earlier this month.

Tennessen is an eager educator, alongside his research interests. Throughout his time in residence as a Ph.D. student at UW-Madison, Tennessen lectured a course in “Environmental Conservation” in the Geography Department. He also helped to coordinate the Quest program run by a non-profit in Madison, which organized service-learning trips for students throughout the world. He annually led Quest groups to Costa Rica and North Dakota. Tennessen moved to State College, PA in 2009, and has taught Geography 30 and Geography 430 in the Penn State Department of Geography.


Angela Rogers