Environmental Conservation


Integration or co-optation? Traditional knowledge and science in the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee

a1 Department of Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA
a2 23834 The Clearing Drive, Eagle River, AK 99577, USA
a3 73-4388 Paiaha Street, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740, USA

Article author query
fernandez-gimenez m   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
huntington hp   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
frost kj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) has become a focus of increasing attention by natural resource managers over the past decade, particularly in the context of the shared management authority between resource users and government agencies (co-management). Little work has been done on how TEK can be successfully integrated with science and applied in contemporary science-based resource management institutions, and the efficacy and legitimacy of co-management and associated attempts to document TEK or integrate it with science have recently been questioned. The cooperative research programme of one co-management group, the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee (ABWC), was studied to describe how TEK and science are integrated and applied in the research process, document perceptions and attitudes of native hunters and scientists towards TEK and science, and identify organizational characteristics that facilitate knowledge integration. Hunters and TEK played a variety of roles in ABWC's research programme, including hypothesis generation, sample collection and data interpretation. Hunters and scientists defined TEK similarly, but differed in their views of science, which hunters often perceived as a tool of state control. Despite political undercurrents, the ABWC displayed several indicators of successful knowledge integration. Organizational characteristics that facilitated integration included a membership structure fostering genuine power-sharing and a range of opportunities for formal and informal interactions among hunters and scientists leading to long-term relationships and an organizational culture of open communication and transparency in decision-making. Given the importance of long-term relationships between scientists and hunters for successful knowledge integration, this study raises questions about (1) the potential for meaningful integration in short-term projects such as environmental impact assessment and (2) the use of TEK documentation studies in the absence of other forms of active participation by TEK- holders.

(Received January 12 2005)
(Accepted October 31 2006)
(Published Online January 4 2007)

Key Words: co-management; common property; common pool resources; cooperative research; environmental impact assessment; indigenous knowledge; traditional ecological knowledge.

c1 Correspondence: Dr Maria E. Fernandez-Gimenez Tel: +1 970 491 0409 e-mail: gimenez@warnercnr.colostate.edu