MILES Managing Idaho's Landscapes for Ecosystem Services

Seeing The Past, Shaping the Present and Future of the Portneuf River: How Environmental Perception Influences River Management


Idaho State University Participants

Lead/PI: Yolonda Youngs, Ph.D. (Department of Global Studies), Donna Delparte, Ph.D., Shannon Kobs Nawotniak, Ph.D., MS Student: Connor Martin, MS student: Jared Ogle, CI Programming: Di Wu (all Department of Geosciences) Social Science/GIS PostDoc (TBA)

Partners and Affilation

Stakeholder: Hannah Sanger / City of Pocatello, BSU Collaborators: Josh Johnston, Steve Cutchin, UI Collaborator: John Anderson

Research Problem

Our EPSCoR team of social scientists, ecological scientists, and visualization experts is studying how environmental perceptions of the lower Portneuf River users and the Pocatello community have changed over time and how these perceptions influenced river management in the past, present, and future for a variety of ecosystem services.

Research Outcomes

Our research outcomes will include new datasets, visualizations, and ways of understanding and interpreting the social history and cultural geography of the Portneuf River. We will conduct a visual content analysis of 70 years of historical photographs and postcards of the Portneuf River, then combine the results of this content analysis with a contextual social and environmental history of water use in Pocatello, ID, and, based on this visual and social data, create digital visualizations of historic landscapes along the Portneuf River and Pocatello.

Potential Impacts

Digital visualizations, combined with social history and cultural geography context, can help the local community and river managers to better understand and visualize historic landscapes and environmental perceptions of the Portneuf River and how past decisions may influence present and future management and potential riverfront restoration. How have environmental perceptions changed over time influenced river management past, present, and future? How can popular visual representations riparian environments such as photographs and postcards and contemporary digital visualizations influence current day attitudes to ecosystem services related to the Portneuf River redevelopment (recreation, aesthetic, habitat)? Our collaborative and interdisciplinary research team will create historic interpretation of the Portneuf River and contribute visualizations of future scenarios that can shape and contribute to planning decisions that emphasize ecosystem service benefits for the local community.

Ecosystem Services and Idaho’s Farmers


Idaho State University Participants

Katrina Running, Jordan Burke (MILES graduate research assistant), Kathleen Shipley (MURI student), Tomas Cota (MURI student)

Research Problem

Our goal was to study how farmers in southeastern Idaho (within a 70 mile radius of Pocatello) use and perceive ecosystem services, especially water. We examined how farmers’ behavior and attitudes affect their environment-related decisions, including their willingness to adopt new conservation practices, work with regulatory agencies, and develop community-based solutions.

Research Outcomes

We conducted and analyzed 30 semi-structured in-depth interviews with farmers in southeastern Idaho. We found that most farmers express a commitment to environmental stewardship but are suspicious of specific regulations designed to improve environmental sustainability, mostly due to their generally low opinion about how well both the general public and government officials understand the farming profession. We also found that while most farmers report noticing specific environmental changes in the area such as rainier springs and warmer winter temperatures, few farmers connect these with long-term global climate change or have plans to modify their behavior to adapt to these changes.

Potential Impacts

Our findings have a number of important implications for future natural resource management efforts. Because farmers do not yet incorporate scientific predictions about long-term climate change into their farming operations, a plan to do so would be valuable, but our findings suggest that this information should be disseminated through members of the community. Cultural distrust of outsiders is high, so people with local connections and knowledge are much more likely to successfully persuade farmers to adopt voluntary conservation measures than people perceived as outsiders.

Stakeholder Survey and Visitor Experience Photography (VEP)


Idaho State University Participants

Donna Lybecker, Mark McBeth, Katrina Running, Yolonda Youngs, James Stoutenborough, Nick Pelikan (graduate student), Travis Stephens (graduate student), Xochitl Sanchez (MURI student)

Partners and Affilation

City of Pocatello and stakeholders from around Southeast Idaho

Research Problem

Stakeholder Survey in Pocatello/Chubbuck loaction: Prepare and administer a survey to stakeholders, including policy decision makers, within the Pocatello, Idaho region in order to obtain preliminary data for EPSCoR MILES work by: identifying stakeholder groups, providing baseline data on stakeholder group demographics, and gaining data on attitudes and beliefs concerning ecosystem services, and citizenship perspectives.

VEP: provide insight into what people (literally) view as notable via photographs in order to begin the process of understanding and analyzing the historical and current patterns of and attitudes toward landscape change, and help identify social drivers of that change and thus vulnerabilities in the ecosystem services.

Research Outcomes

Stakeholder Survey: To accomplish this, created a survey instrument in conjunction with the City of Pocatello, in order to achieve outcomes beneficial to both MILES and the City. We worked with experts from federal, state and local agencies, along with economic and community stakeholders in order to compile a list of 150 stakeholders. We then distributed the survey. Ninety stakeholders responded to the survey. With help from graduate students and MURI students, we analyzed the data and then shared results with all interested stakeholders. From this data we have given multiple presentations to community groups, have two accepted publications and a third being revised for submission. The data from this survey was also used by the City of Pocatello to help develop a Portneuf River Visioning plan and survey.

VEP: To accomplish this, two graduate students asked stakeholders to participate in an activity to photograph features, places, or activities that are most notable to them along the Portneuf River. The respondents also answered a few demographic and anthropocentric (human centered values) vs. eco-centric (ecology centered values) survey questions. The results were used in two ways, first to understand how stakeholders’ survey responses correlated to their visual, photographic responses. And second, to use the stakeholders’ photographs, along with historic photographs, to create a “story map,” photos linked via Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to maps to display the spatial element of the people’s views and attitudes toward the river. From this data we have not only the story map, but also an article written with both a MURI student (Xochitl Sanchez) and a graduate student (Nick Pelikan), being prepared to submit to the Journal of Applied Recreation Research.

Potential Impacts

Information for the City and stakeholders concerning how others value the river and what they value about the river. This information is already helping the City in the process of “Re-visioning the Portneuf River.” It was also used to create a public survey that has been administered; data is being analyzed. Both of these surveys will also allow for insights into how various stakeholder groups can work together (similar desired outcomes and values) and into what people (stakeholders and the public) want to see protected. Finally this work is and will continue to allow university scientists to collaborate with partners and stakeholders, determining policies that can work with the public and stakeholder values associated with the Portneuf River. This will then lead to more public participation and policies that are more likely to be supported and successful.



Publications

Lybecker, Donna L., Mark K. McBeth, James Stoutenborough. “Do We Understand what the Public Hears: Stakeholders Preferred Communication Choices for Discussing River Issues with the Public.” Forthcoming, Review of Policy Research.

McBeth, Mark K., Donna L. Lybecker, James Stoutenborough. “Do Stakeholders Analyze their Audience?: The Communication Switch and Stakeholder Personal versus Public Communication Choices” Forthcoming, Policy Science.

Stoutenborough, James, Mark K. McBeth, Donna L. Lybecker. “Risk and River Narratives: Incorporating Risk Perceptions into the Narrative Policy Framework” Under review at Policy Studies Journal.

McBeth, Mark K., Donna L. Lybecker, James Stoutenborough, Katrina Running, “River Stories or Science? How do Stakeholders Understand Policy Issues," Rejected from Environment and Planning. In revision for submission to Public Policy and Administration.

Story map by Yolonda Youngs: Managing Idaho's Landscapes for Ecosystem Services (MILES)"

Lybecker, Donna L., Mark K. McBeth, Xochitl Sanchez, Nick Pelikan “Visitor Experience Photography: Values along the Portneuf River.” Draft article to be submitted to the Journal of Applied Recreation Research.

Ecology and community perceptions of the Portneuf River


Idaho State University Participants

Danelle Larson, Colden Baxter, Donna Lybecker, Jim Stoutenborough, Rob Edsall, Jade Ortiz

Partners and Affilation

Greg Mladenka, Lynn Van Every, Jennifer Cornell, Hannah Harris (Idaho Department of Environmental Quality), Hannah Sanger (City of Pocatello)

Research Problem

Like many rivers of the semi-arid western U.S., the Portneuf River as it passes through Pocatello, Idaho is characterized by problems of water quantity and quality, and the community faces challenges in developing a management strategy that addresses the various tradeoffs among the range of potential and realized ecosystem services provided by the river. One of the first tasks of the MILES program has been to create a reciprocal connection between social-ecological science focused on this river, and the public planning and policy-making centered on the river corridor in this region.

Research Outcomes

Our studies are characterizing the Portneuf River as a complex social ecological system driven on the one hand by conflict and contradictions, but on the other by a growing, cooperative desire for change in the state of the river and the community's connection to it. The river's current degraded water quality and impaired ecosystem services are a complicated outcome of the tradeoffs between meeting agricultural water use demand and providing flood control, versus addressing the contradictory federal mandate of the Clean Water Act and a new groundswell of community interest in restoring the health of the river. We are identifying key ways in which community perceptions may lack alignment with empirically-described ecological characteristics, which could reinforce vulnerability of river-related ecosystem services. Alternatively, as such disconnects are identified and communicated, MILES science is aiding in development of a new community planning document, based on the "Portneuf River Vision Study.”

Potential Impacts

Impacts have included identification of key drivers of water quality problems for the Portneuf River, linking those to measurements of existing community perceptions and values regarding the river, and communicating them to the community and stakeholder groups involved in planning. We have also developed a close working relationship between our social ecological systems investigations of the Portneuf River and the City of Pocatello's coordinated "Portneuf River Vision Study,” by which the community is generating a long--range plan for the management and improvement of the Portneuf River. Hence, the work is expected to have long-term consequences for the Portneuf River and the community that relies upon its ecosystem services, but may serve as an example for other communities that face similar challenges.

Water quality and risk perception in the Lower Portneuf River Valley


Idaho State University Participants

Courtney Ohr, Sarah Godsey, James Stoutenborough, Kathleen Lohse, Donna Lybecker, Danelle Larson, Rebecca Hale, John Welhan, DeWayne Derryberry, Oscar Ebanja, Bailee Nye, Jenna Dohman

Partners and Affilation

City of Pocatello, Idaho Department of Water Quality

Research Problem

To better understand patterns, sources, and perceptions of water contamination at the urban-rural-wildland interface (Lower Portneuf River Valley), our EPSCoR team of social and physical scientists is studying nitrate and pharmaceutical contamination in private and public wells, as well as the public’s perception of risks associated with groundwater contamination.

Research Outcomes

To accomplish this, we have sampled ~100 private wells and identified hot spots of nitrate contamination using spatial analysis tools. We have analyzed the samples for nitrate, nitrate isotopes, anions, and pharmaceuticals. Septic sources were confirmed or likely sources of contamination for ~60% of the wells studied, contrasting with one narrative of agricultural sources of contamination. We also found that people were most likely to take effective action to treat their water if they had the means to do so, and expressed concern about their water quality. We expect to expand the survey to include respondents outside of city limits in hotspots of nitrate contamination, and to include pharmaceutical testing for public wells.

Potential Impacts

Water quality in small cities, especially those that rely on groundwater supplies for municipal water uses, can be strongly affected growth patterns. High septic densities associated with growth at the ex-urban boundary can lead to hotspots of water contamination that may outstrip small cities’ resources to mitigate the impact of growth. Our source identification confirmed likely septic impact in most private wells that were sampled. Survey results suggest that risk perception was strongly driven by fear of the unfamiliar threat, relatively new emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals.



Bound Together along the Portneuf:
Do investments in conservation benefit rural and urban communities?


Idaho State University Participants

Benjamin Crosby, Donna Lybecker, Trina Running

Partners and Affilation

Hannah Sanger - City of Pocatello; Nate Matlack – National Resource Conservation Service; Soil and Water Conservation District Board

Research Problem

The dominant source of fine sediment that impairs water quality in the Portneuf River comes from Marsh Creek, a highly impacted, agriculture-dominated tributary. In this common conundrum, a rural population is called upon to improve their land management practices in response to the demands of an external entity. We seek to answer (1) whether past conservation efforts have been effective at improving water quality and (2) how rural land owners perceive changes in their long-held agricultural practices to serve downstream users?

Research Outcomes

Between 6/2016-5/2018, we propose to explore the interaction between rural and urban communities and their support and tolerance of each other through the lens of conservation and monitoring investments. To accomplish this, we have partnered with local landowners, the City of Pocatello, the National Resource Conservation Service and the Portneuf Soil and Water Conservation District Board. With these partners, we are collecting historic and contemporary data regarding conservation investments and evaluating their effectiveness. We approach this work guided by three sets of questions:

  • - Are there measurable ecological benefits following investment in conservation and monitoring activities? Do the perceived values of these benefits vary between rural and urban communities?
  • - Are rural conservation objectives defined internally or are they imposed by external actors? Does this distinction impact the perceived value of the activities?
  • - What is the spatial extent and distribution of conservation and monitoring investments? How have these varied over time? Do concentrated investments yield greater ecological or social benefit?
Potential Impacts

Biophysical assessment of Marsh Creek’s change in water quality over time will begin in the summer of 2016, supported by a MS student in Geosciences. Survey design and trials for the social data will begin in summer of 2016, facilitated by on-hand MURI students and continuing in fall 2016 by a MS Sociology student. Dataset integration will be guided by both faculty advisors and two postdocs who will focus integrating the answers to the above questions into a spatio-statistical model that relates investment in conservation and monitoring to both measurable ecological benefits and the perceived value of those activities.


An investigation of food webs in river-floodplains
and public perceptions of ecological complexity


Idaho State University Participants

Colden Baxter, Jade Ortiz, Donna Lybecker, James Paris, Nolan Brown, Janae Crispin

Partners and Affilation

Hunter Osborne, Preston Buckskin, Zach Wadsworth (Department of Fish and Wildlife, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes), Hannah Sanger (City of Pocatello)

Research Problem

Location of Study: Portneuf River, Snake River and floodplain on Fort Hall Reservation of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Pocatello, Idaho State University

River floodplains are naturally complex ecosystems, characterized by a shifting mosaic of aquatic and terrestrial habitats that support a diverse web of life linked by reciprocal exchanges of materials and organisms between water and land. Intact, connected river-floodplains are imperiled ecosystems, and are increasingly the focus of restoration efforts like those being planned for the Portneuf and Snake Rivers in southern Idaho. Yet, such efforts are guided by a combination of ecological understanding, human perceptions, cultural values and history. Improved feedback between science and society with respect to management of river-floodplains demands they be investigated as coupled natural-human systems, and through partnerships that not only link scientific disciplines, but that cross cultural boundaries as well.

Research Outcomes

We are investigating the coupled natural-human systems of the Portneuf and Snake River-floodplains. Our focus involves study of food webs and aquatic-terrestrial linkages in the mosaic of habitats that naturally occur in such settings, evaluation of what has been lost with habitat homogenization and loss of natural flow regimes (or, in turn, what may be gained via restoration), and investigation of public perceptions and values regarding river-floodplain complexity that may determine policies governing the future of these ecosystems and the communities connected to them. Our efforts include partnership with the City of Pocatello and collaboration with the Fish and Wildlife Department of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

Potential Impacts

Our work will inform a long-range plan for restoration of the Portneuf river-riparian corridor through the City of Pocatello, and will be used by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in their management of the Snake River-floodplain ecosystem on the Fort Hall Reservation (referred to as the “Fort Hall Bottoms”). The latter will include improved understanding of the relationship between the management of Snake River flows, groundwater levels, and the ecological characteristics of the Fort Hall Bottoms important to the Tribes.



Publications

Brown et al. “COMBINING INDIGENOUS CULTURE AND ECOLOGICAL SCIENCE: A FOODWEB STUDY ON THE SNAKE RIVER FLOODPLAIN IN SHOSHONI”

Ortiz poster “A CONCEPTUAL MODEL OF SPATIAL COMPLEXITY IN RIVER-FLOODPLAINS AND ITS EFFECTSS ON INSECT EMERGENCE AND TERRESTRIAL INSECTIVORES”

Paris et al. “IMPACT OF LOST FLOODS ON FISH AND FOOD WEBS IN A REGULATED RIVER-FLOODPLAIN”