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.

Finding Myself in Yellowstone

Image: Backpacking in Glacier National Park.

By Maddie Graham
B.S. Biomechanical Engineering, 2015
Summer Intern at 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.

It is amazing how fast time flies. During my drive home from a summer spent in Yellowstone National Park I began tearing up, but I wasn’t quite sure why. I will definitely miss the people I met and the park, but I realized that the biggest reason for the tears was because of how fast the summer went. There were so many things still to do and see, so hopefully I can return someday soon. Similarly, everyone says that we need to enjoy college because it goes fast, and it truly does! I am already halfway done with my time at Stanford and there are still so many things left to explore. This summer was an experience of a lifetime and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work in Yellowstone. I discovered a newfound love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the history of our national parks.

This summer, the majority of my job was spent cataloging artifacts to add to the growing collection of Yellowstone memorabilia, as well as lead tours of the facility. During these tours, numerous people asked me why I chose to work at the heritage and research center if I was majoring in biomechanical engineering. Although engineering is very different from museum and curatorial work, I actually learned a lot about myself and what I might want to do following my time at Stanford. My summer job taught me how to be proactive, seeking out and finding projects to do and new items to catalog. I learned how to get along with coworkers and really reach out and get to know new people. The experiences I had this summer were not limited to the research center, but actually extended to my living situation in the YCC dorm and the relationships I formed with the other park service employees I met there. It is amazing how all walks of life came together to work in Yellowstone National Park; I met some interesting people and heard some great stories. Through it all, though, I learned the importance of being true to yourself and holding strong to your beliefs, but also getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things.

Upcoming Event
Tuesday, October 08, 2013

American Political Campaigns: An Election that Resolved Nothing?

A Conversation with the Washington Post's Dan Balz, Author of "Collision 2012"

E.D. Stone, Alway Building
Room Mcm106

In his book, Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America, Dan Balz describes the 2012 presidential election as a contest between two different visions of America.  The final tally produced a winner but no resolution to the political stalemate that Washington now finds itself in.  In a panel discussion with two campaign leaders, Dan Balz will discuss the current problems in Washington, and what the current political situation may mean for California and the West.  Moderated by Bruce Cain.

Where the Wild Things Were

Image: Bisons, perhaps the most iconic of APR’s wildlife, and the most impressive example of the work they have accomplished in the past decade. APR now has 270 bison, two of which are pictured here.

By Katie Kramon
B.S. Earth Systems and Modern Languages minor, 2015
Summer Intern at American Prairie Reserve

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.

Greetings from Bozeman, Montana, where the distant mountains just got their first dusting of snow, the leaves are beginning to change, and the air is taking on the crispness of autumn. I’ve had a fantastic beginning to my internship with the American Prairie Reserve—devoted to the creation of a wildlife refuge that will protect and allow access to the pristine prairie landscape of Northeastern Montana. The reserve has made rapid and impressive progress since its’ founding in 2001, when the need to protect the perhaps less famed but equally important prairie landscape revealed itself. We now own and lease a total of 274,000 acres of deeded and public land. Their goal is to link public and private lands in the region into the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48, and create an unimpeded natural landscape similar to what existed in the days of Lewis and Clark.

As the Historical Wildlife Populations Intern for APR, I have spent much of my office time so far immersed in the tales of that visionary pair. They kept copious notes on their travels, and especially on their encounters with wildlife--which were not occasional. Between about March and July 1805, they crossed the region now home to the American Prairie Reserve. Their journals are an invaluable and unrivaled lens into what wildlife looked like on the Montana plains two hundred years ago—before hunting and habitat destruction drastically reduced populations. Their accounts serve as some of our only windows into the state of the land at that time—when few records were kept, and much of the American prairie remained unexplored and untouched. The prevalence of wildlife in their accounts is astounding—especially when compared to what remains today. Hardly a day goes by that they don’t mention spotting a grizzly, buffalo, or elk, a beaver, a wolf, a fox. On April 22, 1805, Lewis described “I had a most delightfull view of the country, the whole of which except the vally formed by the Missouri is void of timber or underbrush, exposing to the first glance of the spectator immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer, and Antelopes feeding in one common and boundless pasture.” A couple weeks later, they wrote “Great numbers of Buffalow, Elk, Deer, antelope, beaver, Procupins, and water fowls seen to day, such as, Geese, ducks of dift. Kinds, and a few swan.”

Appreciating the Human Element in Land Conservation

Image: Nancy Vail and Jered Lawson of Pie Ranch -- a farm that POST helped to protect -- are just a few of the members of the human ecosystem that POST constantly interacts with. Photo Credit: Anne Duwe, POST.

By Caroline Hodge
B.A. Psychology and B.A. Philosophy & Religious Studies, 2013
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.

When you hear the term land conservation you might think of well, land: mountains, rivers, valleys, and wildlife. Perhaps you might guess that working in land conservation involves activities such as monitoring plant populations, counting birds, and maintaining trails.

My time at the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) this summer, however, illustrated that actual land conservation work is far more complex. While biologic factors such as topography and watersheds are important, what might be even more essential are the ecosystems of human forces that help protect, maintain, and utilize the land. My colleagues and I at POST were in constant communication with various nodes of this human system: officials at the California State Park system, ranchers interested in leasing POST land, contractors assessing buildings on POST land, and landowners interested in conserving their land. It is through these interactions and relationships—some of which have been built over the course of decades—that POST has been able to achieve its mission of protecting and caring for land in and around Silicon Valley.

Using Comics to Explain Complex Water Issues

A page from Emily Bookstein's graphic novel about land fallowing in southern California. The full comic is embedded below.

Emily Bookstein spent the summer of 2011 as a research assistant for the Center's Rural West Initiative, where she looked for a novel way to explain the issues surrounding land fallowing, where farmers sell their water rights to cities and leave some of their fields barren. Emily used the interviews she conducted on a reporting trip to Palo Verde in southern California as the basis for a graphic novel she developed with the help of Stanford's creative writing program. In a drought year where fallowing is as hot a topic as ever, we are proud to present "Farming Water," her engaging, breezy and nuanced portrait of conflicted farmers weighing the economic costs and benefits of hanging up their plowshares.

The full comic is available on our Water in the West and Rural West Initiative websites, and can be viewed in the window below.

Since the mid-1990s, farmers in the Palo Verde valley in Southern California have embraced a new way to supplement their livelihood: temporarily transferring their water rights to urban utilities in exchange for cash.  By not farming, farmers free up to 111,000 acre-feet of agricultural water per year for the cities – enough for 220,000 homes. In this illustrated report, the Bill Lane Center for the American West's research assistant Emily Bookstein (Stanford '11) looks at the largest and longest water transfer of its kind in California history.

A Display, Dirt, and Databases: A Summer in Yellowstone

Image: Meghan Gewerth and her display about archeology in Yellowstone.

By Meghan Gewerth
B.A. Archaeology (honors) and English minor, 2013
Summer Intern at 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.

This summer I worked mainly in three different areas for my archeology internship at Yellowstone National Park. The first was creating a display about archeology in the park; as far as my supervisor and I are aware there's never been a display about archeology in the park. I developed the idea with my supervisor, chose the artifacts, wrote the labels, and put together the display. I also worked on the backlog of artifacts and records in the lab, including entering information into the ICMS database, resolving duplicate catalogue numbers, and reducing the number of records in the temporary database by over 1,000 records. Lastly, I assisted with various field projects, including a historic structures survey and trail site assessment.

This summer internship was important to me because it exposed me to a different side of archeology than what I learned about as an undergraduate. This archeology focused on compliance work and what it’s like to work for the federal government. This experience was valuable because I learned about different applications of archeology and the various stakeholders that may be involved in a project. However, I was also able to use my previous archeology and lab experience to really help my supervisor. My summer work had tangible, measureable results, and I’m proud and honored to have worked for Yellowstone and the National Park Service.

I also experienced what it’s like to have a proper nine-to-five style job (in this case seven-to-five-thirty!). I learned that I work best when meeting a deadline with tangible results. I’m also glad that I had the opportunity to create a display about archeology in Yellowstone. This combined two areas I’m passionate about – archeology and museums/displays – and contributed to archeology at Yellowstone. This made me excited about bringing archeology to the public, which I will probable pursue further through a masters in Museum Studies.

Looking Down the Stream

By Zachary Zapata
B.S. Management Science & Engineering, 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.

When I arrived in Yosemite National Park earlier this summer, I was given my project task. I was to tackle cabinets full of unorganized files. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to complete it. By the end of the summer, I created and implemented both a File Plan and Container List for the Land Resources Management Office. The File Plan will help future employees organize paperwork in an appropriate manner while the Container List will help to locate files more easily. To my surprise, after completing these documents, I still had time to spare before my summer in Yosemite ended. I decided to take my project further and created my "Next Steps" document. I laid out tasks, tips, and directions for next summer's intern (a document I wish was available to me).

Throughout my summer I learned the importance of communication, a valuable skill my supervisor has just about perfected. I admired his ability to seamlessly weave work talk into informal conversations with his colleagues. He was able to take care of business around the workplace while keeping a lighthearted and calm work environment. I hope to develop this skill and implement it one day into my future jobs, especially if I am to be in a supervisory position.

Working for the National Park Service has shown me the pros and cons of holding a government job. While they are very secure and promotions are available, politics do play a major role in daily activities and the ripples from decisions made on Capitol Hill are felt immediately. However, I think the benefit of helping and providing service to people definitely outweighs the difficulties caused by politics. Therefore, I have been looking more into the public sector recently for a possible career.

With KQED, Visualizing a Warmer Future for Bay Area Open Spaces

A story published by KQED Public Media includes two interactive graphics produced in collaboration with researchers and staff at the Center

The San Francisco Bay Area leads U.S. metropolitan regions in land protection, with nearly a third of its total area designated as open space: in all, over a million acres across 10 counties. Yet with rising temperatures already affecting on local habitats, those lands could be facing profound changes as the climate comes to increasingly resemble that of Southern California today, with increased drought and risk of wildfire.

This week, a radio story and online feature from KQED Public Media explored the future of open spaces and the choices faced by Bay Area land managers. 

With temperatures on the rise, land managers and scientists are beginning to ask how the Bay Area’s landscape will withstand climate change. As plants and animals are forced to shift, some of the Bay Area’s iconic parks and vistas could look dramatically different.
– From "Warming Climate Could Transform Bay Area Parks and Open Space," by Lauren Sommer (KQED, Sept. 9, 2013)

Reported by KQED's Lauren Sommer with the support of a media fellowship from the Bill Lane Center for the American West, the story included two interactive graphics produced in collaboration with the Center's Creative Director for Media and Communications, Geoff McGhee, and the postdoctoral scholar and ecologist Maria Santos.

Graphic Helps Users Explore the Effect of Rising Temperatures on Bay Area Habitats

The first graphic (shown above) allows users to visualize possible changes in landscape cover at different temperatures, based on models designed by UC Berkeley professor David Ackerly. To understand how conditions would change inside open spaces, users can restrict the view to only those lands that are within the boundaries of designated open spaces, and to different types of growth such as trees like redwoods, evergreens or oaks, and grasslands and scrub. 

Map and Timeline Show the the History of Open Space Conservation – and Connect to a Data Crowdsourcing Tool

A second graphic provides a timeline of open space designation reaching back to the mid-1800's, with a slide bar that enables users to track the steady progression of land conservation as federal, state and local entities, nonprofits and so-called special districts worked to protect lands as varied as public parks, wildlife preserves and university research stations. The graphic uses data compiled by Maria Santos in her ongoing study of California land conservation, and it also links to a tool that Santos developed with the GreenInfo Network that enables the general public to contribute information to Santos' vast 53,000-property database of conservation lands statewide.

The collaboration is the Center's second with Sommer and KQED, following on a 2012 project that explored a historical ecology study of the San Francisco-San Joaquin Delta.  Further information on the Center's media fellowships – which support independent research and reporting as well as project-based collaboration – is available on our website. 

Announcing our Fall Seminars on the West

The Center kicks off the 2013-14 academic year with its Fall Seminars on the West, a series of lunchtime talks by visiting scholars, authors, and other friends of the Center. Join us for light lunch and compelling conversation on topics such as Anza's 1776 expedition to Alta California, the re-wilding of the Selway-Bitteroot, the evolution of San Francisco Bay and a newly translated European account of the early Yellowstone National Park.

2013 Fall Seminars on the West

Lunchtime Talks begin at 12pm. Please RSVP to each event on its respective page.

Thursday, September 26 in Y2E2 Room 300
"Down by the Bay: San Francisco's History Between the Tides"
 Matthew Booker, Associate Professor of History, North Carolina State University

Thursday, October 3 in Y2E2 Room 105
"The Anza Expedition in 1776"
Christopher Richard, Former Curator of Aquatic Biology, Oakland Museum of California

Monday, October 7 in Y2E2 Room 105
"Yellowstone, Land of Wonders: Rediscovering a 19th Century Account"
Janet Chapple and Suzanne Cane, Independent Scholars

Tuesday, October 29 in Y2E2 Room 105
"Re-Wilding the West: The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness"
Dennis Baird, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho, and Debbie Lee, Professor of English, Washington State University

Photo: Yosemite Valley via newformula on Flickr

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