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The discourses of incidents: cougars on Mt. Elden and in Sabino Canyon, Arizona


  • David Mattson


  • Susan Clark



Incidents are relatively short periods of intensified discourse that arise from public responses to symbolically important actions by public officials, and an important part of the conflict that increasingly surrounds state wildlife management in the West. In an effort to better understand incidents as a facet of this conflict, we analyzed the discourses of two incidents in Arizona that were precipitated by the intended removal of cougars by managers in response to public safety concerns. We used newspaper content, 1999–2007, to elucidate seminal patterns of public discourses and discourse coalitions as well as differences in discursive focus between incident periods and background periods. Cougars were mentioned in newspaper articles 13–33 times more often during incidents compared with background periods. State wildlife agency commissioners and hunters were part of a discourse coalition that advocated killing cougars to solve problems, blamed cougars and those who promoted the animals’ intrinsic value and sought to retain power to define and solve cougar-related problems. Personnel from affected state and federal agencies expressed a similar discourse. Environmentalists, animal protection activists, and some elected officials were of a coalition that defined “the problem” primarily in terms of people’s behaviors, including behaviors associated with current institutional arrangements. This discourse advocated decentralizing power over cougar management. The discourses reflected different preferences for the allocations of power and use of lethal versus non-lethal methods, which aligned with apparent core beliefs and participants’ enfranchisement or disenfranchisement by current state-level management power arrangements. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. (outside the USA) 2012

Suggested Citation

  • David Mattson & Susan Clark, 2012. "The discourses of incidents: cougars on Mt. Elden and in Sabino Canyon, Arizona," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 45(4), pages 315-343, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:policy:v:45:y:2012:i:4:p:315-343
    DOI: 10.1007/s11077-012-9158-6

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael J. Manfredo & Tara L. Teel & Kimberly L. Henry, 2009. "Linking Society and Environment: A Multilevel Model of Shifting Wildlife Value Orientations in the Western United States," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 90(2), pages 407-427.
    2. Charles Davis, 2006. "Western Wildfires: A Policy Change Perspective," Review of Policy Research, Policy Studies Organization, vol. 23(1), pages 115-127, January.
    3. Dave Howland & Mimi Becker & Lawrence Prelli, 2006. "Merging content analysis and the policy sciences: A system to discern policy-specific trends from news media reports," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 39(3), pages 205-231, September.
    4. Birkland, Thomas A., 1998. "Focusing Events, Mobilization, and Agenda Setting," Journal of Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 18(01), pages 53-74, January.
    5. Mark McBeth & Elizabeth Shanahan & Paul Hathaway & Linda Tigert & Lynette Sampson, 2010. "Buffalo tales: interest group policy stories in Greater Yellowstone," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 43(4), pages 391-409, December.
    6. David Mattson & Nina Chambers, 2009. "Human-provided waters for desert wildlife: what is the problem?," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 42(2), pages 113-135, May.
    7. Elizabeth Shanahan & Mark McBeth & Paul Hathaway & Ruth Arnell, 2008. "Conduit or contributor? The role of media in policy change theory," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 41(2), pages 115-138, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Zachary Bischoff-Mattson & Amanda H. Lynch, 2016. "Adaptive governance in water reform discourses of the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 49(3), pages 281-307, September.


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