Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies

Committee Chair

Dr. Daniel Spencer

Commitee Members

Dr. Neva Hassanein, Dr. Brian C. Chaffin


Restoration, Ecological Restoration, Grant Creek, Relational Dynamics, Political Ecology, Social-Ecological Systems


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Applied Ethics | Environmental Studies | Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Nature and Society Relations | Other Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Other Environmental Sciences | Other Political Science | Water Resource Management


The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration began in 2021, and after a history of contentious ethical debates, ecological restoration is increasingly portrayed as a viable framework for combating environmental degradation and supporting more healthy and stable social-ecological systems. The proposed ecological restoration of Grant Creek, a degraded stream near Missoula, Montana, offers an opportunity to connect a restoration site to the broader, rapidly growing field of restoration practice. It also allows the opportunity to forward the ‘relational turn’ proposed by many in the sustainability sciences as an ontological and methodological means to move beyond positivist portrayals of social-ecological systems, which can reify the very categories they attempt to connect and transform. To gain a more holistic, dynamic understanding of the nature-human connectedness in the watershed, between the Summer of 2021 and the Spring of 2022 I conducted a biophysical NRCS Riparian Assessment on 11 miles of Grant Creek and combined this data with 20 in-depth interviews with landowners and land managers adjacent to the stream. I conducted a mixed methods analysis of these data, and along with archival and historical materials, I advanced my discussion through a political ecology lens that incorporates colonial, discursive, and political critiques. Out of this relational analysis I address the existing restoration opportunities in Grant Creek, and I advance a series of general recommendations for the restoration process. This study highlights the need to contextualize restoration in a relational approach in order to more appropriately confront historical social-ecological injustices, address the root causes of degradation, and create space for more inclusive, grounded, and durable restoration projects.



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