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Restructuring of Land and Community in the Remote Rural West: The Case of Wallowa County, Oregon

  • Year: 2011
  • Author: Abrams, J.B.
  • Journal Name: ProQuest Dissertations and Theses
  • Publisher: Oregon State University
  • Published Location: United States -- Oregon
  • ISBN: 9781124762111
  • Country: United States
  • State/Region: Oregon

Since at least the 1970s, rural areas in the western United States, as elsewhere across the country and world, have been subject to social, economic, and political forces that have resulted in novel demographic and land tenure trends when compared to previous decades. Collectively, these processes of restructuring have created material effects in the form of diversifying patterns of land ownership, use, and economic relations and at the same time have precipitated social conflict regarding the legitimacy of various claims on rural space. In this case study, I examine in detail the manifestation of these interrelated material and symbolic dynamics within one particular community, Wallowa County, Oregon, as it experiences a wave of new rural landowners and associated changes in land access and use. I pay particular attention to the categories of "amenity-oriented" and "production-oriented" landowners, as well as year-round and seasonally-resident landowners, because these categories are situated at the center of local discourse regarding land tenure and use dynamics. Methods for this study include key informant interviews with 70 individuals, a mail-administered survey of 209 Wallowa County landowners, review of secondary data sources, and direct observation as a member of the Wallowa County community. This case study includes a land tenure and use history of Wallowa County, a review of pertinent quantitative land ownership and use data, and analyses of the symbolic (discursive), material (land use), and political dimensions of restructuring in Wallowa County. I discuss ways in which observed patterns of land tenure and use reflect complex influences, based ultimately in class, culture, livelihood, and associated identities and environmental ideologies. I pay particular attention to the contradictory nature of narratives of land ownership, rurality, and nonhuman nature and the ways in which these affect land uses and land use politics. I close with a series of recommendations for rural communities experiencing amenity-driven property turnover.

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