Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism

Department or School/College

School of Journalism

Committee Chair

Dennis Swibold

Commitee Members

Keith Graham, Tom Bansak


water, conservation, rivers, West, erosion, management


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies | Journalism Studies


There are infinite stories to be told about water in the West. As an essential and finite resource, countries, states, tribal nations and neighbors must figure out how to manage this shared resource, whether for ecosystem sustainability, agricultural, household, or recreational use.

The Flathead Lake Biological Station in Polson, MT is one of the oldest active biological research stations in the United States. One of its former faculty, Dr. Mark Lorang, has been working on Flathead Lake’s erosion problem for over 30 years. As a result of seasonal lake level fluctuations controlled by the dam, erosion over the years has resulted in significant shoreline and habitat loss, even prompting a class-action lawsuit. Lorang has been working on a possible solution; installing gravel beaches in a “design with nature” method.

Erin Sexton, a senior scientist at the Flathead Lake Biological Station has spent most of her career working on protecting The Crown of the Continent Ecosystem from mining pollution that starts in British Columbia’s rivers and makes its way through the waters of multiple tribal nations and states. An ecologically distinct area, it has been divided up between countries, management agencies and owners making problem solving and management across a fragmented landscape challenging. Sexton has taken on the roles of researcher and field scientist, collaborator, advisor and science communicator, all with the hope that science will be used to inform policy.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is an iconic piece of legislation that created a nationwide system that seeks to protect the country’s rivers. The Act is over five decades old, and those working to protect its rivers see much room for improvement.

This includes people like Elizabeth Townley who works for the Forest Service creating and updating river management plans, and Darla DeRuiter, an environmental studies professor at Feather River College in California, who calls the Middle Fork, the river in her backyard her home.

I chose to report on these stories for my Master’s Portfolio to raise awareness and make some of these complex topics more approachable. Because there are many stories about and so much nuance to water related management, it can be easy to stop paying attention. But to tell stories about water truly defines what means to live in the West.



© Copyright 2022 Kelsea Harris-Capuano