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

Farewell to Life in Ashton

Image: Pictured left to right: Justin, Jack (graduate intern), Sam (W&L intern at Flat Ranch), Reid (W&L intern at HFF), and Melissa (research associate), atop Mount Borah

By Justin Appleby
B.S., Civil & Environmental Engineering, 2017
Environmental Modeling Intern at 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.

On March 8, I found out I’d be spending my summer in a small town of just over one thousand people, called Ashton, Idaho and practically jumped for joy in the back of a classroom. I texted my parents and friends and group chats, and I started to plan all I would do during my most adventurous summer yet. On June 9, I left Stanford, buzzing for all of the outdoors opportunities the weekends would provide, yet cautiously optimistic about my ability to accomplish the project that had been set out for me. And now, nine and a half weeks into my internship, with three days in the office left to go, I look back on what has turned out to be an unforgettable summer. I saw so much of this geologically and visually stunning area, and I learned so much from my work on the project given to me. Through my project, which has seemingly grown every week, and helped to set up the Foundation for long term success in water quality studies along the Henry’s Fork, I have learned so much about web development, data management, legal issues with water rights, self-teaching, and the non-profit environment. Living out here has helped me grow in so many ways and I feel ready for the next step: applying what I learned here to my future and making sure I set myself up for the long-term.

Project Update

It became clear as I undertook this project, that I would only be able to touch the tip of the iceberg. The end goal for this project is a fully functioning web app displaying live data from twelve sondes in a variety of interactive ways, certainly not a project one single intern can spend one summer finishing. What I can present at the end of the summer, however, is a simple web app with the framework in place for another incoming tech-savvy intern to make extensions to functionality, extensive research and notes on automatic data transmission and continuous monitoring, a single deployed data logger transmitting data from one site to the office on an hourly or bihourly basis, and notes on how to ensure the longevity of this web app, as data files increase from one or two years in size to upwards of ten or twenty years.

I can’t say how long it will take to reach the finished product, but I can say that the way forward is paved, and I am excited to see what Melissa, our new research associate Bryce, and future interns can accomplish with the foundation I have built for this project. It was a pleasure showing Melissa and Bryce my progress today, going almost line-by-line and remembering how many hours I spent trying to make certain lines work. Lately I have been hitting roadblocks that would take longer and longer – the most recent one taking two days – to surmount. It was fun to flashback a few weeks and remember how far I have come.

The Weekends

In my last blog post, I talked about reaching higher elevations each time I took a trip into the mountains, with the highest being Buck Mountain in the Tetons, just shy of twelve thousand feet. Since then, I have hiked to the state high-points in both Montana and Idaho, Granite Peak and Mount Borah, both well above twelve thousand. Accompanying me on the trip to Mount Borah were Reid and Jack, both interns who left last weekend, and Melissa. It was a memorable trip and a culmination of all the bonding we got to do over the course of the summer.

Both mountains were incredible in completely different ways. To reach Granite Peak, my Stanford friend and I had to trek through a dozen miles of total wilderness, with hardly a trail in sight. We plunged in near-freezing lakes and took shelter from afternoon storms in total isolation. To reach Mount Borah’s summit required a mile of elevation gain in just under four miles of trail that sometimes felt closer to a dirty Stairmaster than a hiking trail. And you could see the parking lot from the summit. I also took a one-night trip to City of Rocks National Reserve, in southern Idaho, a playground of spires, boulders, and towers, a climber’s paradise.

Leaving Ashton

Living out here, as fun and fascinating as it’s been, has not been completely easy. Eight months since Christmas make this the longest time I have been away from home in my life, and that number will grow to nine before I see Massachusetts again. Sometimes the cell service falters for entire evenings at a time, disrupting plans I have to call home or talk to the people I miss. It has gotten lonely out here ever since the rest of the interns moved on, but that has given me time to contemplate and narrow down decisions about my long-term future, and mentally compile all that has happened, good and bad, this summer and this past year. I may not have another time in the near future or in my life where I can pause and reflect like this and that has no doubt been a good thing.

Looking Ahead

I will be starting my Senior year at Stanford in about a month, and I plan to finish my Civil Engineering degree and pursue a masters at Stanford as well. The two fields I am considering within the Civil and Environmental Engineering department are “Atmosphere & Energy” and “Structural Engineering & Geomechanics.” Hopefully some of my coursework in the fall will help me decide before the application deadline in early January. Before then, a week from today will be the climax of my climbing summer, as I attempt to summit the Grand Teton. The day after, I leave the Greater Yellowstone Area for good on what promises to be an epic road trip to Southern Utah’s canyon country with my sister. All of this has been planned to ensure I arrive on campus in time for the Stanford Football home opener against Kansas State, September 2.

I cannot wait for everything that is to come. Another year at Stanford, another football season, an epic road trip, and surely more adventures and stories to tell. I have no plans for next summer, but I can’t imagine having a more incredible summer than this one, one where I learned so much, saw even more, grew in so many ways, put to shame those who didn’t think Idaho would be fun, and had some of the best and most important ten weeks I can remember.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Making Parks for People a Reality

Image: A day in the office with supervisors Kat and Eva

By Sarah Flamm
Master's in Public Policy, 2016
Grants and Government Affairs Intern at the Trust for Public Land

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 future is urban. But if you are an outdoors enthusiast like me who is happiest in a redwood forest or a grassy field, this may be cause for concern. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) aims to ameliorate the challenges posed by increasing urbanization by ensuring everyone in the United States, especially those in cities, live within a 10-minute walk of safe parks and outdoor spaces.

TPL is motivated by the belief that natural spaces should be a part of our daily lives, whether it is commuting to work through a green alleyway or a bike trail along the bay; taking lunch in a neighborhood park; or getting away for a weekend in the woods. TPL’s work is expansive; I am constantly learning about new initiatives to preserve habitats, open spaces, regional trails, farmlands, rural economies, and more. The focus is on nature, but not nature in a faraway place, rather enabling human-outdoor interaction.

I am working for the California grants and government affairs teams at TPL headquarters in San Francisco. TPL is a national non-profit organization with over 30 offices nationwide and over 400 employees. Our main goal on the grants team is to design, fund and implement environmental projects. It helps that the health and economic benefits associated with parks and public spaces are easily defensible. So far, I have organized meetings with TPL staff and state representatives from Los Angeles to support a park initiative; supported TPL grant applications; investigated new funding sources for potential projects; and helped plan and conceptualize an upcoming conference on Green Infrastructure and Climate Change in the Bay Area. I have learned a lot about local land projects, California state politics, and how TPL operates as a large successful non-profit. I look forward to visiting Sacramento next month to witness TPL’s lobbying efforts.

TPL often provides parks in disadvantaged communities, giving all kids a safe place to play. TPL uses a participatory model in developing and implementing its projects, working with the community at stake to meet their needs and desires. With these benefits also come challenges: parks drive up property values and can force out low-income residents. The difficulty lies in countering the displacement that is a byproduct of creating a pleasant, healthful urban space. I look forward to exploring this issue further and figuring out what policy measures might be taken to mitigate this problem.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Exploration of Global Groundwater Overuse Wins 2016 Knight-Risser Prize

The Desert Sun and USA Today

A sobering exploration of groundwater overuse in the United States and around the world has won the 2016 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. The series "Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing Groundwater" was written by Ian James of the Desert Sun, with photographs, a documentary film and information graphics by Steve Elfers and Steve Reilly of USA Today. The winners will share in a $5,000 prize and will be invited to Stanford to take part in an environmental journalism symposium this fall.

This year's competition also gave a special recognition to "Killing the Colorado," a series by the investigative website ProPublica and Matter magazine. 

Established in 2005 and co-administered by the Bill Lane Center and the John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford, the Knight-Risser Prize celebrates the best western environmental journalism each year.

Read more about the winners, and see the complete series on the Knight-Risser Prize website »

When Looking Forward Requires Looking Back: Historical Ecology at the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Image: Cattails at dawn in Big Break Park. Taken on a photo assignment in the San Joaquin Delta earlier this summer.

By Kate Roberts
B.S., Earth Systems, 2017
Resilient Landscapes Intern at the San Francisco Estuary Institute

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 pages feel fragile in my hands, browned and brittle with age, as I carefully leaf through them. Flyers from the Sebastopol Apple Festival, postcards from Santa Rosa, newspapers from Petaluma, each carefully inspected and skimmed before moving onto the next. Every once in a while, something will grab my eye, a sentence about flooding, soil, or irrigation, and I’ll snap a picture of the page, before moving on to the next piece of history. It’s my third day at the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), and I already feel deeply immersed in the history of the Petaluma River, buried deep in the stacks of Sonoma State University.

I’m working with SFEI’s Resilient Landscapes Program this summer on a number of projects. In order to restore a landscape or ecosystem, scientists need to know what a “restored” ecosystem would look like, and how it would function. One way that SFEI decided do this is through Historical Ecology (Check out more info in this this New York Times article). It involves digging through dozens of archives and historical documents. Sentences here and there are compiled with maps and other pieces of data to create an image of both how the landscape looked, and also of the important ecosystem functions that could help this region adapt to climate change. One such project is the Petaluma River, and I’ve been working on collecting data from archives, book searches and online databases on everything from the river itself to its tributaries and marshes.

The program also works with many other organizations to combine modern data with advanced tools and cultural knowledge to reshape other landscapes around the bay. One such project is a plan to plant Oak trees in Santa Clara County, once a vast Oak Savannah, now a bustling city. I’ve been helping collect and compile data on the species that would be impacted by bringing the Oaks back. Oaks are incredibly important for biodiversity, hosting hundreds of native species from birds to mammals to butterflies. I’ve been using online databases like GBIF and Vertnet to find data to map how the species’ populations have shifted over the past years. Later on, we will use GIS to create visual maps of the species’ shifts, to better inform the planting of the Oaks. My typical day here varies from data analysis, transcribing and finding historical data, managing images for an upcoming report, getting lost in different libraries and archives, and sitting in on meetings with all sorts of different organizations around the bay. One day I even got to go out and take pictures for hours throughout the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta (see picture above)!

As an environmental scientist, I’ve found that I’m constantly looking ahead, thinking about climate change, development, invasive species, sea level rise, etc. But at SFEI, they’ve realized that sometimes the best way of preparing for the future is by studying the past. This is a totally different approach than I’ve ever thought about taking, and each day I feel like I’m learning more and more how important understanding the past is for making important environmental change for the future.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Summer Exhibitions Highlight California and the American West

Upper Kern River, 1876, by William Keith, on display at the Cantor Arts Center

This summer brings a number of visual arts exhibitions on California and the American West to the Bay Area's leading cultural institutions. Here's a rundown of exhibitions at the Cantor Arts Center, SF Moma, the DeYoung Museum, and the Legion of Honor, from now into the fall.

How Artists Documented – and Mythologized California's Waterscape

California: The Art of Water
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University
June 18-November 28

A new exhibit at the Cantor Arts Center traces the changing California landscape through a wealth of images ranging from epic 19th paintings to dissonant and thought-provoking images by postmodern photographers. 

The curators write:

California: The Art of Water examines the way artists and photographers have portrayed one of California's most precious resources over the last two centuries.  The exhibition features over 50 works of water subjects by eminent artists, including Ansel Adams, Albert Bierstadt, David Hockney, Richard Misrach, Carleton Watkins, and others.

The exhibition links visions of natural beauty and progress with depictions of places where patterns of water use destroyed thriving environments. Many 19th-century artists created images that portray California as a place of pristine lakes and rivers, while later painters and photographers captured the immense and growing system of waterworks--titanic dams, pipelines, and aqueducts---that moved water for hundreds of miles across the state. The visitor to California: The Art of Water will encounter works of art that raise urgent questions about the human relationship with water in the state.

Also happening in the Bay Area this summer:

Wild West: Plains to the Pacific
Legion of Honor, San Francisco
June 18-September 11

"Mined from the wide-ranging collections of the Fine Arts Museums, Wild West explores artistic responses to the natural and cultivated landscapes of the western United States from the frontier era to the present. The exhibition features paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, historical artifacts, and ephemera in a thematic presentation that celebrates the abundance and diversity within the region’s physical environment. (This is a companion exhibition to Ed Ruscha and the Great American West, below).

"Included in Wild West are works by Albert Bierstadt, Maynard Dixon, Ester Hernández, Thomas Moran, Eadweard Muybridge, Chiura Obata, Bill Owens, Frederic Remington, Ed Ruscha, Fritz Scholder, Michael Schwab, Wayne Thiebaud, Carleton Watkins, Emmi Whitehorse, and other artists, whose diverse range of approaches to the theme contribute to a multifaceted picture of the American West."


California and the West: Photography from the Campaign for Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
May 14–September 5

"California and the West — the title taken from Edward Weston’s celebrated book — consists of gifts and promised gifts to the museum that depict wild nature as a spiritual resource, illustrate how land here has been used over time, and explore diverging photographic approaches, from evocation to documentation to self-conscious art making. Arranged roughly chronologically, from the medium’s invention in the nineteenth century to the present, this exhibition reveals changes in the landscape as well as shifts in photographic attitudes and subject matter. Artists on view include Ansel Adams, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Lewis Baltz, Imogen Cunningham, and Lee Friedlander, as well as Dorothea Lange, Ed Ruscha, Larry Sultan, Edward Weston, and Minor White, among others."


Ed Ruscha and the Great American West
DeYoung Museum, San Francisco
July 16-October 9

"Ed Ruscha and the Great American West includes 99 works that reveal the artist’s engagement with the American West and its starring role in our national mythology. This exclusive exhibition has been organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and celebrates the career of one of the world’s most influential and critically acclaimed artists.

"Ruscha continues to work steadily at the age of 78, and this exhibition includes prints made as recently as 2015. He maintains a studio in the California desert and makes regular road trips through the spare and evocative landscapes that first inspired him as a young man. Ruscha has now worked in California for more than 50 years, and this exhibition celebrates his long commitment to exploring the American west as both romantic concept and modern reality."

On the Trail in the Inland Northwest

Image: The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail runs 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Ocean. Here, the trail as it winds through Northeastern Washington.

By Courtney Pal
B.S., Earth Systems: Anthrosphere and B.A., Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, 2018
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Intern in Colville, Washington

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 first time I set foot on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT), I didn’t even realize I was on the trail. It was my second day on the job after arriving in Colville, Washington, a small town of 4,700 people in the northeastern corner of the state. A coworker from the Forest Service was taking me out to see a new land parcel that the Colville National Forest had just acquired. We were talking about the economics of land acquisition, driving down a muddy forest road, when he pulled out a map and looked at it quizzically: “You know, I think we’ve actually been on the PNT for the past twenty minutes,” he told me. The fact that the old road we were driving on just happened to also be part of America’s newest National Scenic Trail – and what had brought me to northeastern Washington – certainly surprised me. Excitedly, I stepped out of the rig to take a look around.

Not many people know about the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, but it’s a gem of the National Scenic Trails system. The trail stretches 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Ocean. While parts of the PNT have wilderness that rivals its fellow long-distance trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail, what I love most about the trail is its deep history and culture.

Walking the PNT tells a story of the economic forces that have shaped the Pacific Northwest for the past few decades. The trail is not spared from view sheds that show the impact of clear cut timber harvest, and it isn’t unusual to meet some of the inhabitants of the grazing allotments that dot this National Forest. But what’s really special about the trail is the towns that it passes through: in the part where I’m working, that means the towns of Metaline Falls (pop. 200), Northport (pop. 300), and Republic (pop. 1000). These towns tell stories too, from the old-schoolhouse-turned-theatre in Metaline Falls, to the Wild West architecture on Main Street in Republic.

My work this summer focuses on connecting small businesses in these towns to the trail and the economic opportunities that it offers. My first step will be going door-to-door downtown to speak with business owners about the trail. I spent my first week here creating a “hiker friendly business guide” for just that purpose. Many people here don’t know about the trail or what hikers want to purchase while they’re in town, so I’m hopeful that this guide will start to raise awareness about this opportunity. After I have these one-on-one conversations, I’ll be hosting a community meeting in each of the trail towns to get feedback from the broader public about how they see the role of the trail in their community. I strongly believe that the future direction of the trail should lie in the hands of community members, and I’m planning these meetings to reflect that vision.

Next week, I’ll begin venturing out into the trail towns with my meticulously prepared materials and friendly pitches about the trial. For now, most of my work has been either in the office of the Tri-County Economic Development District, or out in the field with the Forest Service. I’ve been surprised at how easily I’ve been able to transition between these two very different agencies, but I’m loving every second of the interdisciplinary and connective work that I’m doing. I’m looking forward to the rest of my summer in this community.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Center Interns Go Out West for the Summer

Top row: Emily Santhanam, Seth Chambers, Rachel Lam, Justin Appleby; Middle row: Emilia Schrier, Jaclyn Marcatili, Kate Roberts, Courtney Pal; Bottom row: Julia Goolsby, Sarah Flamm, Iain Espey, Princess Umodu
Not pictured: Caroline Spears (Click image to enlarge)

As summer begins, the Bill Lane Center will once again send a group of students off for a unique set of Western adventures. This year’s cohort includes 13 undergraduates and co-terms who will be spending their summers working in national parks, nature conservancies, hiking trails, rivers, or cities of the West. Stay tuned for blog posts from each of our interns as they chronicle their experiences throughout the summer.

2016 Interns in the West

Location Topic Intern
Henry's Fork Foundation Environmental Modeling Internship Justin Appleby
Heyday Books Sales and Marketing Internship Iain Espey
San Francisco Estuary Institute Resilient Landscapes Program Internship Kate Roberts
Yellowstone National Park Archaeology Internship Seth Chambers
Yellowstone National Park Curatorial Internship Emily Santhanam
Yosemite National Park Archives & Records Management Internship Emilia Schrier
Yosemite National Park Museum Internship Rachel Lam
National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Studies Internship Princess Umodu
Trust for Public Land Government Affairs Internship Sarah Flamm
Trust for Public Land Climate-Smart Cities Internship Caroline Spears
Santa Lucia Conservancy Adaptive Management and Conservation Internship Julia Goolsby
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trial Trail and Community Development Internship Courtney Pal
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Historic Landscape Documentation Intern Jaclyn Marcatili

This summer, read about our interns on the Out West student blog. During the summer quarter, Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their work at organizations thoughout the West.

Learn more about our summer internships »

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