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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Buckley, Patrick H.

Second Advisor

Rossiter, David A.

Third Advisor

Alper, Donald K.


The process of globalization is resulting in a proliferation of political, economic, ecological, and cultural ties that extend across the borders of nation-states. Compounded with the fact that central governments are less interested or capable of addressing every cross border issue, subnational actors are more likely to engage in cross border diplomacy. The border region within Cascadia, a region at the western edge of the US-Canadian border, is not unique in this respect and has been experiencing a rise in subnational cross border interactions. However, cross border actors Cascadia are not fully empowered to engage institutionally or formally. Obstacles such as differing government structures, Canadian sovereignty concerns, and a US emphasis on border security inhibit formalized engagement by local border actors. As a result, ad hoc, cooperative measures are one of a few viable options for cross border stakeholders concerned with a localized but transboundary environmental problem. Cooperation can be induced by strong social capital, that is the existence of social linkages, shared norms of behavior, shared expectations, and shared beliefs and understandings. The Shared Waters Alliance (SWA) is a transboundary working group in Cascadia. An informal and voluntary group, the SWA is limited in focus to environmental issues in the Boundary Bay Basin. Despite its informal nature the group has none-the-less operated continuously for over a decade. At a cursory glance, it would seem the SWA is a successful model of cooperative transboundary environmental governance within Cascadia. The work of this thesis seeks to establish if indeed the SWA longevity speaks to the construction of cross border social capital. In order to examine whether this is true, several separate lines of inquiry where pursued: how much social capital, along structural and cognitive dimensions has actually been established by the group, and what are the main challenges that exist or threaten to inhibit the group's success? A third line of inquiry sought to determine tangible suggestions that could help the SWA rise above or mitigate some of the obstacles it faces. The SWA was not necessarily chosen because it was assumed to be a model of perfection. Rather given the group's durability, it seems worthwhile to investigate it operates. While it may or may not be a model for other environmental managers to follow, determining the successes and failings of the SWA can still provide a road map for other transboundary efforts to follow, or avoid. Conducting a case study of this group was done by pairing two differing yet complementary methods. Inductive, qualitative interviews were conducted with a small handful of SWA participants. The goal of these interviews was to draw out major themes in regards to the social atmosphere within the group, the challenges that were perceived to exist, and what actions each individual interviewee would like to see the SWA undertake in the future. The themes teased out of interview analysis were then used to create a survey that was administered to the group as a whole. The combination of two differing research methods sought to not only allow for the results from the first method to inform development of the second, but to also combine the richness and depth of qualitative inquiry with the statistical generalizations from quantitative surveys. The findings revealed a complex social dynamic. The SWA has largely been successful at establishing and growing connections across the border and creating a friendly, trustworthy forum for communication and networking. However, it also appears that the SWA has not been able to expand beyond passive activities to make substantive efforts to improve environmental conditions, somewhat to the chagrin of stakeholders. While the SWA faces a plethora of challenges, it does not appear that effects stemming from border security practices are among them. Largely, the biggest issues for the group come from external forces they can't easily change, such as lack of empowerment or lack of resources and funding. Largely, there are few instances of differing perceptions between sub-groups of stakeholders. In general Canadians have the same opinions as Americans, Government as non-government, and local government as regional/federal government. However, several critical differing perceptions exist between the opinions of those in government and non-government, and on occasion, between levels of government. As a whole, the SWA is valued by involved stakeholders, although there is a wide enthusiasm at the suggestion of making changes. While the suggestions given were quite general, it appears that most stakeholders hope the group could become more goal-oriented and more organized and systematic. What stakeholders do not seem interested in doing is burdening themselves with more volunteer activities.




Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Digital Format


Geographic Coverage

Boundary Bay (B.C. and Wash.)


Academic theses




Copying of this thesis in whole or in part is allowable only for scholarly purposes. It is understood, however, that any copying or publication of this thesis for commercial purposes, or for financial gain, shall not be allowed without the author's written permission.

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