Dedicated to advancing scholarly and public understanding of the past, present, and future of western North America, the Center supports research, teaching, and reporting about western land and life in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Center News and Notes

Seeking Research Assistants to Study Metropolitan Areas

The Bill Lane Center for the American West is seeking to hire two undergraduate researchers to join our research on Measuring and Visualizing Metropolitan Areas. Students will have an opportunity work with visiting student researcher Thomas Favre-Bulle and director Bruce Cain. More details and application information follow below.

Metropolitan areas provide useful models to describe the functional environment in which urban Americans live their everyday life. The Office for Management and Budget’s (OMB) definition of metropolitan areas uses two criteria: a large urban center and a certain proportion of commuters in the population. This project aims at testing the robustness of OMB’s definition, expanding it to other metrics, and validating potential alternatives.

Depending of the composition of the RA team, the project can be divided into two interconnected lines of research. The first is focused on the metrics themselves and their behavior over the space of metropolitan areas in contiguous Unites States, as well as over time. This line is centered on the research question: what are the relevant metrics to understand American metropolitan areas? The second line of research is focused on visualizing and apprehending the distribution of metropolitan areas in space and expanding the Metropolitan Atlas. This line is centered on the question: how to visualize and compare trajectories, and find patterns of comparable metropolitan areas?

We are accepting applications until Monday, November 17th. This job is 10 hours per week at the rate of $16/hour through winter and spring quarters, with the possibility of extension if both the RA and mentor think it would be mutually beneficial.

Read more about the position »

More than Just Research


Image: Taylor Burdge hiking in the Tetons Range.

By Taylor Burdge
B.S. Earth Systems, 2016
Summer Intern at the Henry's Fork Foundation

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

In the middle of June, I arrived at the doorstep of the Henry's Fork Foundation's office in Ashton, Idaho, unsure of what this summer would bring. I had a general idea of what I would be doing and a vague understanding of the geographical area. However, I was oblivious to the importance of the Henry's Fork Watershed and the role it plays in Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This summer furthered my appreciation for the American West, built on my field research experience, and allowed me to observe grassroots conservation efforts at work. However, my summer was more than just research – I lived in Idaho for 10 weeks and gained an appreciation for the friendly people, clean air, and laidback life that Idaho has to offer.

California Dreamin'


Image: Artifacts from the Heyday offices.

By Kristine Chen
B.S. Product Design, 2016
Summer Intern at the Heyday

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Conducting sales research on prospective partner organizations and book buyers, namely nature groups and historical societies, was my primary responsibility as a marketing and events intern for Heyday. I also completed a data management project involving bookstores that carry Heyday titles, organized an evaluation of Heyday’s current website, and devised a marketing plan for the upcoming publication Under Spring.

These are the concrete means by which I measure the 10 weeks that I have spent at Heyday this summer. Yet they do little to illustrate my experience in its entirety. Heyday’s structure as both a nonprofit organization and a publishing house is nearly unprecedented – a carefully struck managerial balance. Openly communicative, lacking in bureaucracy, and focused on products as well as communities, the Berkeley-bred curiosity embodies values and characteristics that I would previously have placed in opposing camps.

Memories and Insights from Denver

By Justin Lin
B.A. Political Science Research Honors Track, 2016
Summer Intern at National Conference of State Legislatures

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

My experience at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has met my expectations and more. At the beginning of the summer, I expected to have a good knowledge and understanding of the initiative and referendum process as well as find out about some of the most important issues on our ballot this year. This much I did acquire, but I was also able to learn about different topics regarding state governments and legislatures that are very relevant to the issues that concern voters, such as term limits, recount law, and voter registration. Through this experience, I realized the amount of knowledge and expertise that NCSL is able to provide through the research that it does on state law.

State legislatures, media personnel, and citizens often need ready information on elections that concern them, and this information can be very wide-ranging. Not many, if any, organizations have this information available, and NCSL is able to compile information in very accessible and easy-to-read formats, be it through the various databases, reports, webpages, or manuals. Should people not be able to find what they are looking for, NCSL has ready information through documents or can direct them towards the right place to look. In this regard, NCSL provides unique and valuable information on different subjects concerning states that other organizations simply do not have.

Stanford’s Small Green Spaces: Places for People and Birds


Photo: Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, one of the six study sites.

Yari Greaney is a senior pursuing her bachelor's degree in earth systems with an emphasis in land management, and will graduate in winter 2015 with a master's degree focused on freshwater management. She spent the 2013-2014 academic year with the Bill Lane Center as an independent student researcher seeking to understand how nature behaves in lightly urbanized areas. Her research project explores how Stanford University's green spaces function as habitats for native species and as spaces for human activity.

We live in a highly modified landscape. Urbanization has fragmented natural land, disrupted ecological communities, altered water and nutrient flows, degraded soil, and restructured ecosystems into simplified, less resilient forms. So it is understandable that there is a tendency for people, including researchers, landscape architects, and urban planners, to view developed landscapes as separate from, and even conflicting with, natural ecosystems.

However, as undeveloped land faces increasing pressure and as we continue to tax our natural resources, it is important to reintegrate robust ecosystems into developed areas so that we can preserve ecosystem functioning in the same places where we require ecosystem services. In order to accomplish this, we need to determine how to best design green spaces within developed areas to provide not only for human social, personal, and recreational needs, but also for biodiverse, functional ecosystems.

My research project tackled one small piece of this challenging problem: What characteristics of small green spaces in a moderately developed area best promote positive human activity and bird diversity? While it is an imperfect proxy, biodiversity can provide some insight into the resiliency of ecosystems. The Stanford campus was an excellent location for my study, given its moderately low level of development and its abundance of small green spaces. For this project, I studied six green spaces on campus: the Bytes Café lawn, Encina courtyard, Terman field, Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, Governor’s Corner lawn, and the Oval ear.

Archaeology on the Trail


Image: Me holding our GPS in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park.

By Melanie Langa
B.A. History, 2016
Summer Intern at the Yellowstone National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

The five weeks since my last blog post have flown by, and it’s hard to believe that my last weekend in the park is staring me in the face. I’m determined to make the most of it; I’ve made plans to get up early to look for wolves (the one Yellowstone critter I really want to see but haven’t yet) and circled at least five undone hikes on my trail map (we’ll see how many I can manage in the next three days.) Just as ten weeks is not nearly enough time to explore all the amazing trails, views and hideaways in Yellowstone, ten weeks is not nearly enough time to do more than scratch the surface of the scope of archaeology in the park. Every day I still discover more interesting files in the lab or hone my skills identifying obsidian flakes and stone tools at field sites. One experience in particular provided a chance to practice and apply all I’d learned during this internship thus far.

From July 29th to August 7th I assisted with a field project on a mountain at the eastern boundary of Yellowstone. Prior to coming to the park I’d spent time in the backcountry for backpacking or camping trips, but never for fieldwork and never for such an extended period of time. This site’s remoteness makes carrying out regular field tasks challenging. I was lucky enough to be able to tag along for all 48 miles: both the backpacking and the fieldwork portions of the expedition, and learned much as a result. Under the direction of Dan Eakin, who works for the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist and Dr. Staffan Peterson, the Yellowstone Park Archaeologist, who’s my supervisor this summer, our field crew surveyed a potential campsite for a group of Nez Perce fleeing the U.S. Cavalry in 1877.

Citizens of the Land


Image: POST’s Land Stewardship Team as they do a routine survey of the organization’s coastal properties.

By Tori Greenen
B.S. Energy Resources Engineering, 2015
Summer Intern at Peninsula Open Space Trust

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

My time in Palo Alto with the Peninsula Open Space Trust this summer has been an unparalleled experience. I got to glimpse into a piece of the environmental management world that I barely even knew existed. After 10 weeks, I now walk away with a great appreciation for the critical work that POST does to preserve the Bay Area’s stunning natural beauty.

In one of my last weeks on the job I got invited to go along on a routine tour of POST’s coastal properties with the stewardship team. The tour took all day, from 8 in the morning to 6 at night, and in that time we visited numerous properties that POST owns along the coast, from Half Moon Bay to Pescadero. We also met with just a few of the countless people who are connected to POST through the land including Dave Sands, a restoration expert and President of Go Native who fights invasive species on POST land, and the Markegards, a couple who ranches on some of POST’s farmland properties.

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