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.

US-Mexico Water Conference Finds Opportunities for Cross-Border Collaboration

Water in the West is a crucial issue to not only western U.S. states, but across international borders as well. The Center’s legal scholar Vanessa Casado-Pérez is involved in expanding the program’s communication and collaboration with Mexican water managers, researchers, and policymakers. Here is a recap of Water in the West’s recent cross-border conference at Stanford Law School.

The Center’s Water in the West Program hosted a three-day Uncommon Dialogue on US-Mexico trans-boundary water issues at Stanford Law School. It deserves the adjective “uncommon” because the workshop brought together professionals from different disciplines and sectors on both sides of the border. Lawyers, engineers, political scientists, Environmental Protection Agency staff, and officials from CONAGUA, the Mexican water agency, were among those who participated. The goal of the workshop was to identify areas of research that might foster integrated trans-boundary management of water resources.

The workshop took off with an evening keynote by Rick Van Schoik of the North American Research Partnership, who offered an overview of water challenges along the 1,954-mile border. The next day, two panels covered the state of groundwater aquifers and the water-energy nexus, whereby water use requires large amounts of energy, and vice-versa.

San Francisco's Animal Past

"Deer and Kangaroo at Woodward's Gardens," stereoscopic image by Eadweard Muybridge, 1869 (Eastman House)

A doctoral candidate in the Stanford Department of History, Andrew Robichaud was the Center's Thomas D. Dee II Graduate Fellow during the 2013-2014 academic year. Working with the Spatial History Project, Andrew explored the role of animals in 19th-century cities, with a particular focus on San Francisco.

In the summer of 1866, Robert Woodward opened the doors of his San Francisco estate to the public. For a small admission fee, visitors could explore the gardens and museum, which were perched on a hillside near the old Mission Dolores. The crown jewel of Woodward’s Gardens was its extensive zoological park—the first of its kind in San Francisco, and one of a growing number of zoos in American cities in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Public and private zoos like Woodward’s brought animal life and entertainment into American cities in new ways, offering urban residents up-close interactions with creatures from around the world. For the next three decades, Woodward’s Gardens would remain a centerpiece attraction in the city for residents and tourists alike—what Woodward called a “Resort for the People!” Woodward himself became known popularly as “P.T. Barnum of the West.”


At the exact moment Woodward was bringing lions, bears, exotic birds, and sea lions into the city, new municipal ordinances were pushing other animals farther from downtown.

I became interested in Woodward’s Gardens as an important institution in the transformation in urban animal life in late-nineteenth century San Francisco. At the exact moment Woodward was bringing lions, bears, exotic birds, and sea lions into the city, new municipal ordinances were pushing other animals farther from downtown. When the Gardens first opened in 1866, the small creek that carved through the hillside of Woodward’s Gardens emptied into Mission Creek, and, less than a mile downstream, trickled past a collection of slaughterhouses and hog ranches known later as “Old Butchertown.” In those few years in the late 1860s—if the winds were blowing right—the stench of offal and the squeals of hogs might have mixed with the smell of popcorn and the laughter of children. By the 1870s, those spaces were separated through new laws that effectively zoned slaughterhouses, hog ranches, and other “noxious trades” many miles to the south. Woodward’s Gardens flourished as these other animal businesses disappeared. This changing landscape of urban animal life is the central focus of my dissertation.


Earlier this year, I discovered an archival collection of letters received by Robert Woodward, which are housed in the California State Library in Sacramento. These letters not only speak to the cultural centrality of Woodward’s Gardens across California and the American West, but also offer an unusual glimpse into animal geography and intricacies of the live animal trade in late-nineteenth century America. Woodward received hundreds of letters each year offering animals for sale: mule deer from Modoc County, a cinnamon bear and foxes from Red Bluff, reindeer and caribou from British Columbia, wild cats from the Sierra Mountains, prairie dogs from Wyoming Territory, seals from Santa Barbara, and bears from the Central Valley and Mendocino. As part of a larger network of zookeepers, Woodward traded or sold some of these animals internationally—to P.T. Barnum in New York, and to dealers and zookeepers as far as London and Germany.

The Dee Fellowship at the Bill Lane Center offered an opportunity to explore this distinctive collection more thoroughly as I worked through the final stages of my dissertation. Through my affiliation with the Stanford Spatial History Project—with the help of undergraduate Mark Sanchez—we have begun mapping the geographic origins of these letters and the species offered for sale. In these maps we can begin to see both the real and imagined expanse of the San Francisco market. The letters also provide a rare glimpse into the vast, variegated, and rapidly changing animal landscape of California and the American West.

Water in the West Weighs Future of California's Groundwater

California's largest source of water, groundwater is is of particular importance in the third year of an ongoing drought. Yet heavy use has led to steeply declining aquifer levels and rising pumping costs. As the state faces growing challenges to this lightly regulated but critical resource, the new website "Understanding California's Groundwater" takes a look at the future.

Our series explores groundwater management in California through new research into key groundwater issues, interactive graphics and a synthesis of existing knowledge on groundwater in California, all designed to advance public understanding of this critical issue.

Understanding California's Groundwater

Created by Water in the West, the Center's joint program with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the site combines an overview of groundwater issues – economic, technical and legal – with new research by students and scholars affiliated with Water in the West. The site also offers extensive information graphics explaining concepts like groundwater recharge, the relationship of groundwater to other sources, and the state of California's data on groundwater.

Geoff McGhee, the Center's creative director for media and communications, worked with Water in the West researchers and staff and the San Francisco-based interactive design firm Halftone to develop the site. Understanding California's Groundwater has been cited by KQED Public Media and The New York Times's Dot Earth blog, which calls it "an invaluable package of analysis, graphics and recommendations on groundwater management."

Life on the River

Image: The three girl HFF interns in front of Millionaires View on the Henry’s Fork.

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.

Determined to live out west, I interned last summer in Bozeman, MT and (as expected) fell in love with the Northern Rockies. Now, a year later, my internship with the Henry’s Fork Foundation (HFF) has taken me back to the area I love so much.

Although I gained an appreciation for the fly fishing culture last summer, nothing prepared me for the fly fishing scene at the Henry’s Fork. This 127 mile long tributary of the Snake River is prized for its superb fishing, especially dry fly fishing. Anglers are drawn here from around the world with the goal of hooking and landing one of the Henry’s Fork prized trout.

As the only organization solely devoted to preserving the Henry’s Fork, HFF interns are always busy. There are two main projects going on: a habitat study and an angler satisfaction study. A grad student from Grand Valley State, Zack Kuzniar, is researching which habitat rainbow trout prefer, and all six interns are helping him out. Prior to the start of my internship, over 40 fish were tagged with radio trackers. We then spend the rest of the summer tracking this fish to see which habitat they prefer to live in. Zach walks around the riverbank with a radiotelemetry reader to try and pick up the signals from the tagged fish. Two interns follow him carrying all of the supplies needed to survey the habitat. Once Zach locates a fish, we examine what the habitat is like by looking at factors such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, depth, water velocity, substrate size, and macrophyte growth. By the end of this summer, Zach will know what factors these rainbow trout favor.

The Tree

Image: My supervisor at POST, Abigail Adams, admires a magnificent redwood. Photo courtesy of Dan Sicular.

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.

There is nothing more iconic to Stanford University than the Tree. Here on campus, the Tree flourishes under an environment of ridiculous adoration and infamy that cultivated both our football war cry "Fear the Tree!" and led to the notion that the Tree is our official mascot (it's actually Cardinal, a very exact and yet ambiguous shade of red). So it seems appropriate that as I embark on my summer term off from Stanford as an intern at the Peninsula Open Space Trust I find myself surrounded by trees.

But these aren't just any trees. They are proud individuals of the forested area now known as San Vicente Redwoods, a recently acquired property of the POST. We are here in an effort to create a management plan for the 8,500 acre property that will protect this special environment for generations to come. 

It's really a day in the life here at POST, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting, preserving, and restoring open space and agricultural land on the Peninsula. They use donor contributions to purchase environmentally and ecologically important lands and place them under conservation easements to ensure they are kept as undeveloped open space.

It's a Small Town

Image: Marking trees to clear to make a new phone tower connection. There was a rockfall earlier this week that crushed the existing phone line! My office is one of the ones that deals with the implications of this.

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.

"So, um, do people here hang out? Like, do you get to know people you work with or anything?" It was my first day – my first hour – in Yosemite National Park, where I would spend the next ten weeks. I felt both overwhelmed by tourists and underwhelmed by my lack of cell service. Thankfully, the guy behind the register at the Yosemite Valley Market seemed friendly, and we had been chatting as he checked me out.

"How long have you been working here?" Suddenly, the person behind me in line cut into our conversation. Thankful for another friendly face, I smiled at her.

"I literally just got here. What about you?"

"Oh, wow, welcome! I’ve been working here for about two weeks now. Where do you live? You should come hang out with us!" She pointed to some people in line behind her, who introduced themselves to me. The guy behind the register laughed and nodded to me. "It’s a small town," he said. And so I spent my first evening in Yosemite with them around a campfire.


What Do You Want on the Ballot?

Image: National Conference of State Legislatures, 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.

Our democracy fundamentally relies on the involvement and passion of the citizenry with government. This may come in the form of voting, working for campaigns, or promoting issues. A significant way in which citizens in 24 states across the country have the option of being involved is through the initiative and popular referendum process. The initiative, simply put, is a type of ballot measure in which citizens can put proposed laws onto the ballot for a vote. The popular referendum is another type; citizens can have the state vote on a law passed by the legislature, approving or rejecting the law.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is a bipartisan organization that provides information, does research on, and gives training on state issues. Research topics run the gamut and range from healthcare to civil justice to elections. I work under the Elections and Campaigns division, where I explore the initiatives and referendums that are to appear on this year’s ballot as well as the law with regards to initiatives and referendums. A typical day starts with a quick check to see if states have released information regarding ballot measures. Then I’m off to either updating the database the NCSL has on ballot measures for the 2014 election or updating information that we have on initiative and referendum. After a lunch break, I go through and compile daily news clippings of ballot measures for individual states. Along with these tasks, I have begun to work on certain projects, such as writing about what has appeared on the primary election ballots and what is yet to come.

Museum, But Not in a Museum

Image: The archives, library, and museum staff in front of Roosevelt Lodge on a park-wide tour.

By Fiona Noonan
Undeclared, 2016
Summer Intern at Yellowstone’s Heritage and Research Center

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 people look at Yellowstone’s Heritage and Research Center (HRC) in Gardiner, Montana, a few questions may come to mind:

  1. What is that obscenely large building?
  2. What happens inside?
  3. Is it a penitentiary?

As a result, the place I’m spending my summer creates plenty of confusion for Yellowstone employees, citizens of Gardiner, and oft-confused tourists.

The easiest question to answer is the one about the penitentiary. Not an inmate in sight, even if the building is nearly windowless.

The other two aren’t always so easy.

Bridging the Valley: Building Connections at the National Parks

Image: World's Most Beautiful Office: Yosemite Valley.

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

The Yosemite Museum is a microcosm of the Park Service. Though we don't wear the green and khaki uniform, we are charged with the same duty as any park ranger: to conserve and protect, to enable enjoyment for all people and for all time. The museum may only have a modest plot of two galleries, but its collection contains over 4 million items. I get to put my (gloved) hands on the entire collection. I'll often assist coworkers in inventories or rehousing objects through which I've been learning how to safely handle delicate art and artifacts. However, the project I've designed for my summer is primarily research based so I spend the majority of my time in the Research Library. Here, I investigate sources to create Wikipedia pages for figures and events related to the park and also am developing a blog for the park website that will be a sort of 'Curator's Corner' where I choose interesting item(s) from the collection and write about why they're so important, historically rich, or just plain cool.

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