Water History

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 405–429 | Cite as

Seems like I Hardly See Them Around Anymore: Historical Geographies of Riparian Change along the Wind River

  • Teresa Cavazos CohnEmail author
  • William Wyckoff
  • Matt Rinella
  • Jan Eitel


Riparian areas—and the cottonwoods, water birch, bull berry, and currants that flourish within them—hold special significance for Tribes of the Intermountain American West. These species have served ceremonial and practical purposes for generations. Yet cottonwoods have experienced well-documented declines over the past several decades, and serve as indicators of overall riparian change. Research generally attributes this shift to the development of water control infrastructure, altered flood regimes, invasive species, and grazing, and rightfully so. Less attention has been paid to the cultural and historical geographies underlying these vectors of change. This research focuses on the Wind River as a case study to examine the cultural and historical factors related to riparian change. Using remote sensing, interviews and document analysis, we specifically examine boundaries between tribal/non-tribal lands along the Wind River and (1) heterogeneous patterns of riparian change, (2) significant differences in settlement patterns and the development of water infrastructure, and (3) distinct differences in water governance and its power relationships. We conclude that riparian change is heterogeneous; differs temporally, spatially, and between cultural boundaries; and relates to a socio-ecological interplay of values, practices, and policies that underlie water control, flood regime change, and proliferation of invasive species. Ultimately this research suggests that examinations of riparian change would benefit from additional in depth analyses of cultural and historical geographies, and their temporal and spatial relationships. Furthermore, tribal sovereignty over land and water may have significant impacts on overall landscape mosaics, particularly regarding the maintenance of species that support traditional lifeways.


Indigenous water resources Riparian vegetation Historical geography Cottonwood Wind River Indian Reservation 



This research was made possible by the National Science Foundation (#0440594), The Nature Conservancy of Wyoming, and The Big Sky Institute at Montana State University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teresa Cavazos Cohn
    • 1
    Email author
  • William Wyckoff
    • 2
  • Matt Rinella
    • 3
  • Jan Eitel
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IdahoMcCallUSA
  2. 2.Montana State UniversityBozemanUSA
  3. 3.USDA Agricultural Research ServiceFort KeoghUSA

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