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