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.

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.

A Summer Behind-the-Scenery


Image: Tuolumne Meadows.

By Kristen Stipanov
B.A. Art History, 2016
Summer Intern at Yosemite 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.

I have been coming to Yosemite National Park since I was a little kid, and I have always loved it. My parents used to make the drive from San Diego to Tuolumne Meadows each summer, to camp or backpack for a few days. And looking back, I can’t imagine a better place for summer vacation.

So here I am again, back for an entire summer in one of my favorite places. The last time I was here, just a few years ago, I was struggling to get permits to hike the John Muir Trail. My brother and I spent a few nights in El Portal hotels, waking up as early as possible in order to get Happy Isles entry permits, just like it seemed everyone else was trying to do. In those summers, spent backpacking with my dad or brother, I fell in love with the park. This summer, though, I learned about a side of this place that I never would have considered, as a visitor.

Yosemite’s Land Resources Office is made up of one full-time realty officer, and two seasonal helpers. Together, they deal with all of the land use issues in the park. So, for example, if a rockslide or fire destroys the phone lines (both of which happened this summer!), this office deals with the repairs. I have sat in on countless meetings with AT&T to plan new phone towers, or to worry about the originals not working. But “land use issues” also extends to residences. If someone is trying to improve their house on government land, this office deals with the permits and building regulations for that project. The Land Resources Office deals with a wide range of situations, and it’s a lot of work for three people.

It's Wild


Image: View from the office window, trying to make a buck.

By Heather Glenny
B.A. Art History, 2016
Summer Intern at the Yosemite Museum

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.

That’s what I tell my friends when they ask about my summer in Yosemite. They know I don’t mean school-year wild, with the blur of rowdy football games, raucous social life, a schedule of overlapping classes, and weekend trips to every thrift store in San Francisco. No—I mean a different kind of wild. The wild that gave me creative license to spend 10 weeks writing about whatever I thought was cool. The wild that was a soothing and supportive work environment, rejuvenating in its murmur and current. The wild that fills you with freshness and a sense of gratitude—everyone I’ve met that works here thinks they’re lucky to be here (…and we are). The wild that feels electric without any electricity.

But I am grateful that we do actually have electricity. Without the conveniences of modern life, my internship wouldn’t exist (and we’d all be too hot to get anything done, anyways). My job focused on the fusion of nature and technology, on bringing the past into a cohesive and magnetic collision with the present. Working with my supervisor and the park’s webmaster, we’ve made a blog for the Yosemite website. Some posts are short highlights of interesting objects in the collection, and others are extensive interpretive entries on other items or themes. I’ve created over a year’s worth of blog entries that hopefully tickle the interest of the public. Some are seasonal, some precautionary, some academic, some just silly. The goal of these posts is to ignite a spark between someone sitting in front of their computer screen and the rich, truly amazing history of this park, using the web to make connections.

Finding My Place in the World of Water

Photo: Courtesy Aldric Ulep

Aldric Ulep will graduate from Stanford in September with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and interdisciplinary honors in environmental science, technology and policy. He developed his honors thesis topic—a case study of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan—in conjunction with scholars from Water in the West, a joint program of the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. The Bill Lane Center and Stanford’s Program in Public Policy supported his attendance at the American Water Resources Association’s conference “Integrated Water Resource Management—From Theory to Action,” where he presented his research.

“What’s your thesis about?”

People fighting over water and making up.

Inhale, exhale. “Broadly, it’s about collaboration in water management. More specifically, it’s about how competing stakeholders in Washington’s Yakima Valley came together to create the Yakima Integrated Plan.” I never answer that question with the same description twice because it would limit the way I understand my research.

I value research that is readily accessible and relevant. To move beyond the academic perspective and interact with those who wrestle with water management issues in their jobs, I presented my case study of the Yakima Plan at the American Water Resources Association’s 2014 Integrated Water Resource Management conference.

The AWRA is a multidisciplinary association of water resource professionals in academia, government, NGOs, and others. At its conference in July, we unpacked Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) theory through various case studies. Although it can be defined in many ways, I understand IWRM to be a mode of water planning that equitably involves a broad array of stakeholders and their interests, including social, economic, cultural, and environmental ones.

In the Archives, a Western Treasure Trove

Storyboards from The Hanging Tree, Courtesy of Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries.

Andrew Patrick Nelson, an assistant professor of film history and critical studies at Montana State University, spent several weeks as a visiting scholar at the Center this spring. He is co-editing an anthology on filmmaker Delmer Daves.

AND THE MAN WHO GETS AROUND…. Delmer Daves, who directs, writes and produces, is a veteran Hollywood craftsman. A native of San Francisco, he is a graduate of Stanford University, with his earlier schooling taking place in Los Angeles. His first studio work was as a property man with James Cruze. He became an actor in “The Duke Steps Out” with William Haines and Joan Crawford because the director thought he looked more like a college man than the film’s prop boy. He started writing scripts. In 1942, for Warners, he directed his first picture, “Destination Tokyo,” from his own script. It was for the Burbank studio that he has made some of his best films, including the recent “Parrish,” “Susan Slade” and “Rome Adventure.”

Warner Bros. production notes for Spencer’s Mountain (1963)
Delmer Daves Papers (box 65, folder 34)
Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

My time at the Bill Lane Center for the American West was dedicated to researching an anthology on American filmmaker Delmer Daves, whose extensive personal papers are held in Stanford University Libraries’ Special Collections. After graduating from Stanford with a law degree in 1927, Daves moved south to Hollywood, where he worked continuously from the late 1920s until the mid-1960s, first as a writer and then as a director and producer. Some of his best-known films include Destination Tokyo (1943), Dark Passage (1947), 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and A Summer Place (1959).

Few filmmakers created as unique a body of work in Hollywood as Daves, yet few have been as critically overlooked in existing scholarship. Daves is often regarded as an embodiment of the self-effacing craftsmanship of classical and postwar Hollywood, a competent but conventional studio man whose films lacked the kind of distinct perspectives and predilections detected by critics and scholars in the work of contemporaries like John Ford and Howard Hawks.

One of the principal aims of my work is to dispel this notion and reveal Daves for who he truly was: a supremely talented artist with a distinct worldview, whose films offered viewers a progressive portrait of masculinity and repeatedly avowed the importance of cooperation and community for the advancement of humanity. As Daves wrote—by hand—on his extensive “character notes” for the film Jubal, “Each of us must have a REASON FOR LIFE, and no man can free himself of a sense of failure…while he refuses to see or create in himself a REASON for life” (Box 41, Folder 3).

As Drought Heats Up, a Switch from 'Paper Water' to 'Wet Water'

Photo: Gene Alexander, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Burke W. Griggs represents the State of Kansas in federal and interstate water matters and teaches natural resources law at the University of Kansas. He spent the 2013-14 academic year as a consulting professor at the Center, and remains affiliated with us and with Water in the West, a joint program of the Center and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.  

I have spent most of my legal career working on some of the most difficult water-related problems facing the American West: legal conflicts over interstate rivers, technical disputes about Native American tribal claims to water, political fights over oil and gas production, and the looming crisis over declining groundwater supplies. These are problems with difficult histories, thorny legal problems, daunting technical challenges, and enormous public consequences. Why would I retreat from these theaters of legal combat to spend a year as a consulting professor at the Bill Lane Center for the American West? The easy answer, of course, is that only a fool declines an invitation from Stanford. The better answer, however, makes nonsense of the question; the Bill Lane Center is no retreat at all, but an advance. By exploring the many and divergent aspects of these problems, the scholarly community at the Center is finding practical solutions to them as well.

My research explores western water law, especially the historical contexts in which it reached doctrinal maturity during the 19th and 20th centuries, and the various ways in which the owners of water rights have asserted and defended their rights in the face of both increased competition and declining supplies. During my year at the Center, I completed two long articles. The first, "Irrigation Communities, Political Cultures, and the Western Public," asserts that there are important differences between surface water irrigation communities that are reliant upon reservoir and canal systems, and groundwater irrigation communities, which rose to prominence more recently alongside the groundwater revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. Recognizing these differences helps to understand how and why these communities perceive, employ, and defend their water rights in different ways, and provides a useful guide to legal reform. This article began as a conference paper delivered at the Bill Lane Center’s Conference on the Rural West held at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center in Ogden, Utah, in 2012; it will be published in 2015 along with other selected conference papers in The Rural West: Common Regional Issues, edited by David Danbom (University of Utah Press). My second article confronted a worrisome contradiction in western water law. Most western water rights are permanent, real property rights, but in many parts of the West and especially over the Ogallala Aquifer, the water supplies upon which those rights depend are running out. Whether and how we decide to reconcile the claims of water rights regimes with the reality of water supplies will determine much of the West’s water future. This article, "Beyond Drought: Water Rights in the Age of Permanent Depletion," was published in the June 2014 issue of the Kansas Law Review.

Mapping California’s Past to Understand its Future: Research and Policy at SFEI


Image: Map of the Rancho Llano de Santa Rosa, courtesy of Curtis & Associates, Inc.

By Alexandra Peers
M.S. in Earth Systems, 2015
Summer 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.

My time with the San Francisco Estuary Institute is almost up, and I’m sad to be leaving! I had a fantastic time interning at SFEI, completing my goal this summer of working on a wide range of projects for SFEI and collaborating with almost everyone in the “Resilient Landscapes” department.

In terms of my work over the second half of my internship, I continued doing historical research, searching through maps and online databases, and had the chance do take another trip out into the field to do archival research. Or maybe I should say “field,” as a coworker and I ended up at the map archive of Curtis & Associates, Inc. This archive turned out to be a hidden gem: a small firm specializing in land services, they boast one of the largest in-house collection of land surveys in the region, with some their maps being unique to their office and not found anywhere else. After being given a personal tour of the facilities and the maps stored therein, my coworker and I went to work looking for maps related to the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and managed to find a good assortment. It was amazing to realize how many of those maps were drawn before GPS and modern electronic surveying tools existed, and how much work must have gone into making sure those maps were accurate! I got back into the swing of reading scientific papers by working a literature review for a project on shoreline change in the San Pablo Bay. One of my most interesting and challenging projects was working on a wetland mapping task. Collaborating with other SFEI staff and members of the “Environmental Informatics” department, we mapped and categorized wetlands areas throughout California, to get a sense of the kinds of wetlands and their locations within the state.

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