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Kirsten Vinyeta

ENVS PhD student Kirsten Vinyeta has just published an important article on how racism and settler colonialism have shaped Forest Service fire science and policy in Environmental Sociology. This article is a chapter of her dissertation work in progress. Check it out:

Kirsten Vinyeta (2021) Under the guise of science: how the US Forest Service deployed settler colonial and racist logics to advance an unsubstantiated fire suppression agenda, Environmental Sociology, DOI: 10.1080/23251042.2021.1987608

ABSTRACT: Over the last century, the United States Forest Service (USFS) has reversed its stance on the ecological role of fire – from a militant enforcer of forest fire suppression to supporting prescribed fire as a management tool. Meanwhile, the Karuk Tribe has always prioritized cultural burning as a vital spiritual and ecological practice, one that has been actively suppressed by the USFS. This article examines the discursive evolution of USFS fire science through the critical lens of settler colonial theory. A content analysis of agency discourse reveals how the USFS deployed anti-Indigenous rhetoric to justify its own unsubstantiated forest management agenda. USFS leadership racialized light burning by deridingly referring to it as ‘Piute Forestry.’ The agency has also discredited, downplayed, and erased Indigenous peoples and knowledges in ways that invoke tropes of the ‘Indian savage,’ the ‘Vanishing Indian,’ and the concept of ‘Terra Nullius.’ It wasn’t until the 1960s – in the context of the Civil Rights and American Indian Movements – that the USFS began contemplating the value of prescribed fire. This research illustrates the complicated relationship between the settler state and Western science, as well as the malleability of scientific discourse in the face of changing social contexts.


Kudos Kirsten!