Settlement, identity and environment: understanding processes of vegetation change along the Wind River
Cohn, Teresa Helene.
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Contemporary research concerning wildlands and wildlife of the American West increasingly calls for greater complexity in understanding human-environmental relationships. This dissertation investigates a culturally diverse portion of Greater Yellowstone in order to complicate these dialogues. It explores a riparian corridor along the Wind River, a region permanently settled by Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho and Euro-American residents in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Using the Wind River Basin as a case study, this research observes the landscape through three different lenses: settlement geography, place identity, and vegetation change. By incorporating a variety of methods to understand regional change (including historical research, interviews with residents, and comparative aerial and ground photography), it finds that riparian change relates to a complex cultural-ecological mosaic. Not only is change perceived differently by a variety of communities in the Wind River Basin; change relates to century-old settlement geographies, government policies and cultural preferences, shifting economies and power relationships, and evolving relationships formed by interrelationships of people and environment. This dissertation argues that investigations of environmental change must not oversimplify dynamic relationships between people and place. Indeed, the complexity of these places may relate to why Greater Yellowstone has remained one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states.