Bear Country examines contemporary transhumance in the French Pyrenees, specifically the Ossau valley, which has a population of 6,800 people including approximately 60 shepherds and their families. Concerns about the environment and biodiversity have prompted the French and EU governments to initiate plans to protect certain species and to attempt to reintroduce bears in the Pyrenees in an effort to reestablish a balanced ecosystem. This book examines the controversy that ensued as shepherds respond to government initiatives. As well, the book looks at the major demographic and technological changes undergone by this ancient way of life over the last few decades. The insights and responses of shepherds are described in order to shed light on the ways in which shepherds envision that pastoralism may be practised in the future.
Between 2004 until 2007, the author made a number of trips to the Pyrenees and spoke and worked with many Ossalois, both shepherds and non-shepherds, making a conscious effort to speak with shepherds of diverse backgrounds and ages. The most interesting contrasts, by far, were between those Ossalois shepherds who were opposed to bear reintroduction and those who supported it.
Not surprisingly, even non-shepherds are very aware of the pastoral culture and are well informed of the issues and concerns surrounding bear reintroduction and the future viability of pastoralism. In addition to shepherds, the author interviewed, among others, a park ranger and ornithologist, a historian, teachers, a chiropractor, a photographer/writer, and a retired veterinarian who had tended to all the valley’s sheep, for their views and understandings of pastoral issues in the valley. There were also innumerable spontaneous conversations with people in the mountains, on village streets and in cafés and restaurants.
The book should find a ready audience amongst those in the anthropology field as well as among upper year undergraduates. It is timely and relevant as it addresses issues of pastoralism, ecology, globalization and power and resistance. It will also find a place among general anthropology courses, area ethnography (Europe), pastoral studies, and environmental studies.
This book is part of the European Anthropology Series, edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh.