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Friday, March 4th
9:00 AM

Indian Treaty-based Climate Change Claims: Legal Strategies to Advance Tribal Sovereignty & Hold Government Accountable for the Climate Crisis

Kirsten D. Gerbatsch, Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana

UC 332

9:00 AM - 9:15 AM

Climate change is an existential threat facing all of humanity, disproportionately threatening the very existence of American Indian tribes. Around the globe, citizens, states, municipalities, and non-governmental organizations are suing to hold their governments accountable for climate-related commitments and climate change impacts. To date, however, no Indian tribe has directly used its trust relationship nor treaty rights to hold the United States government accountable for climate change harms to land, water, wildlife habitat, or cultural resources.

Yet, Indian tribes are uniquely situated to do so. Unlike other plaintiffs, tribes have, since time immemorial, occupied lands and relied on natural resources that form the basis of tribal sovereignty and are now threatened by climate change. Tribes also have unique standing, rights, and injuries resulting from climate change which may form the basis of successful climate action where other plaintiffs have failed. Tribes have relied on treaties with the United States to enforce valuable rights such as access to water, fish, and hunting areas for centuries, and successfully brought breach of trust claims when the federal government mismanaged natural resources. Based on the unique legal status of tribes, the trust relationship between the federal government and tribes, and specific treaty-reserved rights, Indian tribes in the United States may be the best situated plaintiffs to successfully bring a climate change claim.

Scholars such as Elizabeth Kronk Warner, Dean and Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah; Sarah Krakoff, Deputy Solicitor of the U.S. Department of Interior Office of the Solicitor and former Moses Lasky Professor of Law at the University of Colorado Law School; and Rebecca Tsosie, Regents Professor of Law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, have researched and written on climate change threats to American Indian communities, as well as potential legal pathways and barriers to bringing successful claims.

Their research and legal theories provided the inspiration and foundations for my research. I advance their important work through incorporating strategies learned from recent climate change litigation brought by non-tribal youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States, as well as natural resource treaty-based litigation brought by tribal plaintiffs in the landmarking United States v. Washington decision. My proposed legal claims tie together and leverage courts’ jurisprudence related to the public trust doctrine, environmental servitudes, Indian treaty-reserved rights, and the federal Indian trust relationship.

This presentation will provide an overview of the legal foundations of several distinct tribal climate change claims based on foundational principles of federal Indian law; discuss the different strengths and weakness of the different plaintiffs’ claims in Juliana v. United State, and United States v. Washington; and propose innovative legal claims based on tribal treaty rights and the federal trust responsibility to hold the United States accountable for climate change threats to Indigenous homelands and lifeways.

9:20 AM

Determining Spatial and Temporal Controls on Snow Isotopic Signature and Tracing the Snowmelt Pulse as it Moves Through Two Montane Catchments

Jenna K. Rolle, The University Of Montana
William Payton Gardner, The University Of Montana
Camela Carstarphen, Montana Tech

UC 332

9:20 AM - 9:35 AM

Snow accumulation, storage and melt play an essential role in the hydrological processes of snow-dominated mountainous catchments. Low evapotranspiration rates during the winter season make groundwater recharge more sensitive to snow inputs than rainfall. Climate change is projected to globally alter snowpack amount and melt timing and this study aims to help understand how these predicted changes will impact water availability.

In this study we investigate the spatial heterogeneity of stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in snow across two mountainous catchments to estimate the input of snow to local soil, bedrock aquifers, and streams. Stable isotopes are well established as environmental tracers in hydrogeologic systems, owing to the distinct ratios of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes imparted during thermodynamic processes such as phase changes during snowfall, snow metamorphism and snow melt.

Snowpack cores were collected on four sampling runs throughout the snow accumulation and ablation seasons at ten sites in the Lubrecht Experimental Forest near Greenough, MT. Sites were selected to encompass a range of four topographic factors of interest: elevation, aspect, slope angle and hillslope position. Each site was instrumented with a passive capillary sampler that collected a seasonally-integrated bulk snowmelt sample. Soil and bedrock wells at five of the ten sites were sampled after the initial snowmelt pulse and stream samples were taken weekly at the outlets of both catchments.

All samples were analyzed for d2H and d18O and deuterium-excess values using a mass spectrometer. 40 Precipitation samples collected monthly since 2018 provide a local meteoric water line (LMWL) of d2H = 7.29 d 18O – 8.00, with snowpack samples plotting on or above the LMWL and all snowmelt samples plotting slightly below, as expected.

Comparison of sample d18O and deuterium-excess values show that no single factor dominates overall isotopic composition. Visualization of the distribution of the d18O signatures by each topographic variable through all sampling runs shows that spatial trends are weak and affect only isolated parts of the snow cycle. The strongest trends were observed were 1)elevation is negatively correlated with d-excess values in the snowpack and 2) slope angle controls how much enrichment occurs as the snowpack melts with low angle slopes showing the highest enrichment.

Temporal trends in snow isotopic signatures are shown to outweigh spatial trends, with all samples showing enrichment over time, and spatial factors affecting signatures during different phases of snow accumulation and melt.

Mixing models using snowmelt, soil, groundwater and stream isotopic ratios as end-members are used to quantify the source partitioning and timing of these reservoirs across the water year. The models allow us to separate different waters by their unique chemistry and back out how the different water reservoirs interact. Model results allow us to trace the snowmelt pulse temporally as it moves through the catchment and quantify snowmelt contributions to groundwater and streams.

A quantitative understanding of the spatial variability of stable isotopes in complex terrain will help to refine sampling techniques for studies of groundwater recharge from snow. Knowledge of the timing, location and amount of snowmelt input to headwater catchments will help to quantify effects of a changing climate on groundwater resources and help inform water resource management decisions.

9:40 AM

How does rock turn into soil?

Supanut Suntikoon
William Payton Gardner, The University Of Montana

UC 332

9:40 AM - 9:55 AM

In mountainous areas, maximum chemical reactions occur when rock is transformed into soil. When rainwater infiltrates the soil, the majority of the water flows down deep into the bedrock, and the remainder flows laterally through the soil. Water leaches nutrients from the soil and bedrock before flowing into streams. The interface between soil and bedrock influences not only stream quality but also water distribution between soil and bedrock. As the demand for soil and water grows, the processes that control the transformation of bedrock into soil in mountainous areas become increasingly important. The goal of this study is to better understand the processes that govern the transformation of bedrock into soil in mountainous areas. Hillslope steepness, atmospheric carbon dioxide, rainfall, climate, bedrock characteristics, and topography are all factors that influence the transformation of bedrock into soil. A computer simulation will be used to investigate the impact of each process using the program PFLOTRAN. The current computer capability allows a wide range of possible scenarios affecting the transformation of bedrock into soil over hundreds of thousands of years to be simulated. The field observations from the study area, Lubrecht Experimental Forest, located 35 miles East of Missoula, MT, will be used to validate and improve the simulation modeling. This study will be the first to use computer simulation in both two and three dimensions to investigate the processes that control bedrock-soil transformation in the semi-arid alpine climate on the hillslope scale over millions of years. The simulation model developed in this study could be applied to any well-known geology and climate worldwide to help better understand the processes that control the bedrock-soil transformation in the mountainous areas. The ability of computer simulation allows us to predict processes that cannot be observed directly or in difficult-to-access areas, particularly in developing countries where monitoring sites are lacking. Because soil and water are predicted to become scarce resources in the future, the findings of this study will benefit a wide range of stakeholders.

11:00 AM

Understanding Gender and Sexuality Advisors’ Experiences, Needs, and Perceptions of Self-Efficacy

Kelly M. Davis

UC 332

11:00 AM - 11:15 AM

Many youth who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ+) experience school as a hostile environment, with 90% of LGBTQ+ youth reporting they have been harassed at school on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (Kosciw et al., 2018). These experiences have been linked to a variety of negative mental health and academic outcomes for LGBTQ+ students (Toomey, Ryan, Diaz, & Russell, 2011). Importantly, access to supportive adults and the presence of affirming school clubs such as Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) help to mitigate risk and confer protection for LGBTQ+ youth (Gastic & Johnson, 2009; Poteat el al., 2013). However, despite the documented importance of supportive and affirming adults within the school context, surprisingly little attention has been paid to supporting school staff, such as GSA advisors, who are in opportune positions to promote resilient trajectories among LGBTQ+ students. To address this gap, this study assessed usual practices within the GSA context and explored relationships between advisors’ receipt of professional development, their own social emotional competencies, and their perceived role-specific self-efficacy.

GSA Advisors (n = 167) were recruited using purposive, non-random sampling techniques and innovative methodology aimed toward recruiting participants from this difficult-to-reach population across the United States. Participants completed an online survey that included advisor and school demographics, GSA activities, and training experiences. Additionally, participants completed measures related to their own social emotional competencies and their perceived self-efficacy in completing a variety of tasks related to supporting LGBTQ+ youth in their role. Results from this study contribute to the field’s understanding of who is serving in this important mentorship role, the activities they perform, and their needs related to training and support. Additionally, exploratory findings demonstrated relationships between advisor training, social emotional competency, and perceived self-efficacy, potentially pointing to novel mechanisms for supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Through developing robust and adult-centered professional development related to meeting the unique needs of LGBTQ+ youth, GSA advisors may feel more prepared and efficacious in their roles.

Despite GSA advisors indicating that they would benefit from additional training, few advisors are receiving professional development related to their critical role supporting LGBTQ+ students. Given the rates at which students are experiencing identity-based harassment, equipping advisors with skills related to supporting the social and emotional needs of their students and related to helping students navigate experiences of victimization and discrimination is paramount. School staff, including GSA advisors, are in a potentially powerful position to help LGBTQ+ students thrive, even in the face of adversity. As such, focusing on better meeting the needs of GSA advisors and developing their cultural competence in working with LGBTQ+ youth is an understudied yet important potential pathway for effectively supporting multiple youth over time, and for ensuring that LGBTQ+ students are receiving the safety, care, and support they deserve.

11:20 AM

Perceived Efficacy of School Violence Prevention Programs and School Climate in Rural Schools

Jennifer Rotzal

UC 332

11:20 AM - 11:35 AM

School violence has been of great concern to policy makers and school professionals for the past several decades. During the 2015-16 school year, 79 percent of public schools reported that one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes had taken place on school grounds, amounting to 1.4 million crimes (Zhang et al., 2016). Schools have reported the most common form of violence being physical fights and threats, which accounted for over 50 percent of disciplinary violations (Cornell, 2017). There are numerous school violence prevention programs implemented across the nation; however, despite knowing how events of violence negatively affect school climate, little is known regarding how school violence prevention programs affect school climate.

Although school violence is frequently perceived as a uniquely urban phenomenon, studies have indicated that rural schools are at as much risk for violence as urban and suburban schools (Flynn et al., 2018). However, few studies have examined the climate of rural schools and perceptions of school climate, despite rural adolescents being more likely to have brought a weapon to school than their suburban and urban counterparts (Flynn et al., 2018). As anticipated, rural schools have been found to be significantly smaller, have fewer teachers, teachers’ aides and administrators, and spend less money per student compared to urban and suburban schools (Cotter et al., 2015). Rural schools have also been found to have fewer violence policies, security practices (i.e., use of security guards, surveillance cameras), and fewer violence prevention strategies compared to their urban counterparts (Cotter et al., 2015). The lower prevalence of school violence prevention strategies in rural schools, in addition to the fact that rural schools have comparable levels of violence to urban and suburban schools, suggest that rural students may be at a heightened risk for school violence. Further research identifying the efficacy of school violence prevention programs can create safer schools in rural areas where resources may be lacking. To address this dearth of research, this study examined the perspectives of rural school mental health professionals and their beliefs surrounding the efficacy of their school’s violence prevention programs and its relationship to school climate.

Participants were invited to partake in a survey that was disseminated through the Montana Association of School Psychologists (MASP) and the Montana School Counselor Association (MSCA) listserv. In addition to demographic questions, participants were asked to complete The Safe and Responsive School (SRS) School Safety Survey (Skiba, Simmons, Peterson & Forde, 2006), which is a self-report scale designed to assess perceptions of school safety and school climate. After completing the above survey, participants answered questions related to the rates at which their school experiences school violence.

The results indicated a positive relationship between perceived efficacy of violence prevention programs and school climate, as well as a negative relationship between rates of violence and school climate. It is anticipated that the results of this study will benefit schools in identifying critical perspectives of the efficacy of school violence prevention programs and how these programs affect school climate.


Cornell, D. G. (2017). School violence: Fears versus facts. Routledge.

Cotter, K. L., Smokowski, P. R., & Evans, C. B. (2015). Contextual predictors of perception of school danger among rural youths: baseline results from the rural adaptation project. Children & Schools, 37(1), 9-17.

Flynn, K., McDonald, C. C., D’Alonzo, B. A., Tam, V., & Wiebe, D. J. (2018). Violence in rural, suburban, and urban schools in Pennsylvania. The Journal of School Nursing, 34(4), 263-269.

Skiba, R. J., Ritter, S., Simmons, A., Peterson, R., & Miller, C. (2006). The safe and responsive schools project: A school reform model for implementing best practices in violence prevention. Handbook of school violence and school safety: From research to practice, 631-650.

Zhang, A., Musu-Gillette, L., & Oudekerk, B. A. (2016). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2015. NCES 2016-079/NCJ 249758. National Center for Education Statistics.

11:40 AM

Happy schools: Examining a psychoeducational curriculum and small group intervention for high school students

Dylan Wright
Lillian Martz

UC 332

11:40 AM - 11:55 AM

Poor mental health is a growing problem among youth in schools. More than one in three high school students report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and one in six youth report making a suicide plan in the past year (Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2019). The COVID19 pandemic has only exacerbated mental health challenges in youth; with emergency rooms reporting a 30% increase in pediatric suicide attempts beginning in 2020 (CDC, 2021). Now more than ever, mental health support and preventative efforts are needed to bolster positive mental health and prevent mental health crises.

Positive Psychology, the study of what makes life living (Peterson, 2008) offers a helpful framework to understand and improve mental health and well-being during times of turbulence and stress. Positive Psychology’s emphasis on highlighting one’s strengths instead of weaknesses and building the good life naturally align with the role of a strength-based school counselor.

The focus of the presentation is to highlight the work graduate students in The Department of Counseling have been doing with the Montana Happiness Project. Roughly 40% of happiness is within the control of individuals based on their actions and behaviors (Lyubomirsky, 2005). With this as a guide, we have created a psychoeducational curriculum which teaches students about the art and science behind happiness as well as how to utilize different strategies/activities to improve their overall well-being. 45–60-minute lessons were run with all ninth and tenth grade students at a local high school through student’s Health and PE courses. Preliminary data was collected on how likely students felt they would be to continue utilizing happiness strategies. This curriculum can be adapted for all grade levels and used by professionals in multiples roles within schools (teachers, counselors, school psychologists, after-school programs, etc).

Additionally, we identified students who would benefit from small groups focusing on utilizing happiness strategies. Students were identified by teachers, administrators, and counselors, and were pulled for 1.5 hour groups/week for five weeks. We gathered data on overall levels of happiness before and after participation in the group and intend to follow-up to see if improvements are maintained two months after the group has concluded. Results will be presented.

This curriculum and small group plan were developed in conjunction with The Montana Happiness Project which aims to improve the overall well-being of all Montanans. These plans will be distributed to any school professional who wants to utilize them. We believe this project will be a positive contribution to students all over the state of Montana.