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ARS Home » Plains Area » Miles City, Montana » Livestock and Range Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #327546

Research Project: Adaptive Rangeland Management of Livestock Grazing, Disturbance, and Climatic Variation

Location: Livestock and Range Research Laboratory

Title: Seems like I hardly see them around anymore: Historical geographies of Cottonwood decline along the Wind River

Author
item COHN, TERESA - University Of Idaho
item WYCKOFF, WILLIAM - Montana State University
item Rinella, Matthew - Matt
item EITEL, JAN U - University Of Idaho

Submitted to: Water History
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/29/2016
Publication Date: 12/5/2016
Citation: Cohn, T., Wyckoff, W.K., Rinella, M.J., Eitel, J.H. 2016. Seems like I hardly see them around anymore: Historical geographies of Cottonwood decline along the Wind River. Water History. 8(4):405-429.

Interpretive Summary: Cottonwoods—as well as the water birch, bull berry, and currants that flourish in their galleries—hold special significance for Tribes of the Intermountain American West. These species have served ceremonial and practical purposes for generations. Yet cottonwoods have experienced well-documented declines over the past several decades. Research generally attributes this shift to damming, altered flood regimes, invasive species, and grazing, and rightfully so. Less attention has been paid to the cultural and historical geographies underlying these causes of change. This research focuses on the Wind River as a case study to examine the cultural and historical factors related to riparian change and specifically, to cottonwood decline. We specifically examine boundaries between tribal/non-tribal lands along the Wind River and 1) heterogeneous patterns of riparian change, 2) significant differences in settlement patterns and the development of water infrastructure, and 3) distinct differences in water governance and its power relationships. We conclude that riparian change is heterogeneous; differs temporally, spatially, and between cultural boundaries; and relates to a socio-ecological interplay of values, practices, and policies that underlie water control, flood regime change, and proliferation of invasive species. This research finally suggests 1) examinations of riparian change would benefit from additional in depth analyses of cultural and historical geographies, and their temporal and spatial relationships, and that 2) tribal sovereignty over land and water may have significant impacts on landscapes, particularly regarding the maintenance of species that support traditional lifeways.

Technical Abstract: Cottonwoods—as well as the water birch, bull berry, and currants that flourish in their galleries—hold special significance for Tribes of the Intermountain American West. These species have served ceremonial and practical purposes for generations. Yet cottonwoods have experienced well-documented declines over the past several decades, and serve as indicators of overall riparian change. Research generally attributes this shift to the development of water control infrastructure, altered flood regimes, invasive species, and grazing, and rightfully so. Less attention has been paid to the cultural and historical geographies underlying these vectors of change. This research focuses on the Wind River as a case study to examine the cultural and historical factors related to riparian change and specifically, to cottonwood decline. Using remote sensing, interviews and document analysis, we specifically examine boundaries between tribal/non-tribal lands along the Wind River and 1) heterogeneous patterns of riparian change, 2) significant differences in settlement patterns and the development of water infrastructure, and 3) distinct differences in water governance and its power relationships. We conclude that riparian change is heterogeneous; differs temporally, spatially, and between cultural boundaries; and relates to a socio-ecological interplay of values, practices, and policies that underlie water control, flood regime change, and proliferation of invasive species. This research finally suggests 1) examinations of riparian change would benefit from additional in depth analyses of cultural and historical geographies, and their temporal and spatial relationships, and that 2) tribal sovereignty over land and water may have significant impacts on overall landscape mosaics, particularly regarding the maintenance of species that support traditional lifeways.