Free-flowing Rivers Lab

 Current people and projects:


Denielle M. Perry

Current research agenda:

  • Conservation as a nature-based solution for climate adaptation and resilience
  • Analyzing conservation policy to re-Indigenize riverine ecosystem governance
  • Integrating Dynamic Interactions and Feedbacks among Socio-ecological Diversity, Connectivity, and Resilience to Inform the Future of Riverine Ecosystem Conservation

Co-chair of the international Durable River Protection Coalition.

Steering Committee and Co-PI NSF RCN-UBE River-based ImmersiVe Education & Research (RIVER) Field Studies Network.


Emily Hite

NSF-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellow 2021-2023

I received my PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Colorado Boulder in May 2021. Dissertation research focused on understanding the intersection of Indigenous rights and hydropower development in Costa Rica, which I correlated to international climate governance decision-making processes. My postdoctoral research, entitled Hydrosocial territories of climate governance: an interdisciplinary examination of the Indigenous-hydropower nexus, engages scholarship on imaginaries, space/place, and hydrosocial territories to investigate the dynamic interactions and feedbacks between imaginaries, climate change discourse, and hydropower development. I will conduct mixed-methods, ethnographic research at climate and hydropower conferences, as well as in the Western United States where proposed hydropower projects threaten Indigenous communities. My research agenda is driven by my passions for social and environmental justice, love of water, and enthusiasm for nature. The ultimate goal of my work is to inform more equitable and sustainable climate policies. You can read more about my work here:

Affiliate Researchers

Ian Harrison

Ian Harrison obtained his Ph.D. in systematic ichthyology at the University of Bristol, UK. He has conducted research on marine and freshwater fishes from several parts of the world, including fieldwork in Europe, Central and South America, West and Western Central Africa, the Philippines, and the Central Pacific. He was based at the American Museum of Natural History from 1996 to 2008, conducting research on systematic ichthyology and freshwater conservation biology, before starting work with Conservation International (CI) and the Global Species Programme of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He is currently the Freshwater Specialist for CI’s Moore Center for Science, where he is helping develop CI’s Freshwater Science Strategy as well as CI’s broader, institutional-wide Freshwater Initiative. He has served as the Technical Officer for the Freshwater Fish Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), is part of the Steering Committee for SSC, and co-chair of the IUCN-SSC Freshwater Conservation Subcommittee. He is an Adjunct Professor for the School of Earth and Sustainability, Northern Arizona University. He is currently based in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Taylor Joyal

I received a joint doctoral degree from the University of Idaho and CATIE in Turrialba, Costa Rica in 2014. My research in the central highlands of Costa Rica focused on watershed hydrology modeling and physical characterization of low order mountain river channels within watersheds experiencing a range of land use intensity. Fundamentally today I seek out research opportunities that contribute solutions to environmental problems at the watershed scale. My current research includes ongoing seismic monitoring of post-fire debris flows following the 2019 Museum Fire outside of Flagstaff. I am also leading watershed monitoring and modeling for use by the soon-to-be jointly managed Chelly National Monument as the Navajo Nation gains authority over decision making. We hope that this model will provide a means for informed decision-making regarding planning for future land use under a changing climate. And, I work with undergraduate and graduate students researching the impacts of arroyo cutting on shallow groundwater storage along the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona and along drainages adjacent to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.


Adam Bringhurst

PhD Candidate; The School of Earth and Sustainability; Engineering Sustainable Design.

I love water and I especially love rivers! My 20 years river guide experience in the Grand Canyon and my love for water and rivers informed BS and MS degrees in Environmental Engineering. Now as a PhD student in the Free-flowing Rivers Lab, my dissertation research combines science with policy “Investigating Ephemeral Stream Channel Restoration: From Prioritization to Implementation.”

Caitlin Brogan

Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental and Sustainability Studies + MS Climate Science and Solutions

My thesis research, “Off the Hook: Subsistence inland fisheries and their vulnerability to climate change,” is funded by the NASA Space Grant and advised by Dr. Perry, along with Dr. Ian Harrison (Conservation International) and Dr. Abigail Lynch (USGS). This study focuses on assessing the vulnerability of inland subsistence fisheries to climate change in the United States. This analysis considers environmental and socioeconomic influences on communities where these fisheries serve as a critical source of protein and engender food security. A major objective of the project will be to publish the results of the research in concert with recommendations for protection of these fisheries, an undertaking driven by my interest in environmental protection and climate policy.

Monica Pech Cardenas

Ph.D. Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability.

Comexus-Fulbright funded. She received her M.Sc. in Marine Biology from Research Center and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV). Her recent collaborations at Research Center and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV) included mangrove conservation and restoration projects in Mexico, understanding of carbon dynamics in mangrove forests, mangrove restoration as climate change mitigation strategy, and dynamics of nutrient exchange in coastal zones. In addition, Monica is collaborating with Indigenous communities in Mexico to help in the application of Mexican laws and norms to protect and restore mangroves. As a PhD student in Earth Science & Environmental Sustainability at NAU she aims to evaluate the effects of past and current environmental policies on historical mangrove cover changes. This study will be helpful to understand how to increase protection and restoration efforts. Her future analysis can be used as a tool to develop efficient strategies to restore mangrove degraded areas because it considers free-flowing rivers and sediment supply that support coastal ecosystems. By addressing both mangrove and river protection policies, ecological functions and resilience of mangroves can be preserved. Also, Indigenous communities in Mexico will have more opportunities to be included on multi-national mangrove restoration projects that help to mitigate the greenhouses gases, improve community wellbeing, and provide ecosystem services such as biodiversity, water purification, flood control, coastal protection, among others.

Ryan J Yazzie

PhD Student, Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability

I earned my Bachelor of Science right here at NAU in Environmental Science with a minor in Physical Geography and a class concentration in Meteorology and Climatology. After graduation I worked with the United States Department of Energy working in their nuclear program. In tandem, I attended Vermont Law School where I earned a graduate degree in Environmental Law. Upon graduation from Vermont Law School, I was relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico where the DOE assigned me to work with Los Alamos National Laboratory. Here I was tasked with environmental research into properly cleaning up radioactive rivers, watersheds, and forests left over from nuclear arm testing. I love water, and it is one of my main research interests. I feel water is the most beautiful substance on Earth. The hydrosphere has fascinated me since I was a boy, and I was taught early that we need to respect water as it gives life to everything. This is one of the main reasons the Free Flowing Rivers Laboratory was somewhere I knew I had to be. My other main research areas include Meteorology/Climatology, River Ecology, Fluvial Geomorphology, Tribal Water Rights, Environmental Law, Tribal Law, Environmental Psychology including Nature Deficit Disorder and the Southwest USA and desert biomes. Outside of academics, I am a father of 3 beautiful girls and love doing nature videography and photography. Also, I am a huge Volkswagen guy!



Rachel Ellis

Masters student, Masters Candidate Sustainable Communities. Graduating class Spring, 2019

My thesis, Exploring Anticolonial Protective Pathways for the Confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, examines how federal governance and indigenous community organizing can be utilized in the Little Colorado River (LCR) basin to protect the socio-ecological resources in the Confluence and, specifically, the Hopi Sipapuni. Substantial surface and groundwater use within the LCR basin threaten the water sources of the Confluence and springs in the LCR basin. Engaging an Anticolonial theoretical lens, I conduct semi-structured interviews with indigenous community organizers and federal land managers. I also analyze various policy and water laws with specific focus on the National Historic Preservation Act/Traditional Cultural Properties and the ongoing LCR Adjudication.   In my research I elucidate the impacts of colonization on this issue and the degree to which solutions can be anticolonial. In collaboration with Hopi-run Black Mesa Trust, I identify anticolonial protective pathways that highlight the centrality of reciprocal relationships, Indigenous Knowledges, and meaningful inclusion in policy and law processes. Ultimately, the struggle for water protection in the LCR is the struggle for protection of inherent Indigenous rights.   My career goals are to support community-driven, justice-oriented watershed management, conservation, and indigenous rights in the Southwest through education and advocacy. I’ve lived in the Southwest my entire life and am deeply committed to the protection of this region and its peoples. My research is supported by the Sustainable Communities program and the Community and University Public Inquiry initiative at NAU. See a webinar on the our published research “A Confluence of Anticolonial Pathways for Indigenous Sacred Site Protection” here:

Sarah Burnham

Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental and Sustainability Studies + MS Sustainability Studies

I am currently enrolled in the 4+1 program in pursuit of a BS in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and an MA in Sustainable Communities. Upon graduating, I will also have completed the River Studies and Leadership certificate. I joined Dr. Perry’s Free-flowing Rivers Lab in fall of 2020 to continue research on the 2018 European Rivers Summit. Since then, I also contributed to the “Global Analysis of Durable Policies for Free-flowing River Protection,” started my graduate thesis research on energy transitions related to the Central Arizona Project, and currently am serving as president of NAU’s 4th Annual Student Water Symposium organizing committee. In the future, I hope to positively influence the management of riverine ecosystems through community and academic engagement.

Stephannie de Souza Fernandes

Stephannie Fernandes

MS Environmental Science and Policy

Prior to beginning the MSc program at NAU I worked as a lawyer in Brazil. Now my research, Conflict, Connectivity, and Confluences: Limitations And Possibilities for Amazon Riverine Ecosystem Protection, focuses on the promotion of the harmonious development of the Amazon Basin, the cooperation among the Amazon States in the context of Latin American regional integration, and its socio-ecological implications. This research revolves around identifying policy options for the creation of an Amazon basin-wide conservation system for free-flowing rivers and ecosystem service protection. My long term career goals are to continue advocating for the environment and society. I wish to transform the knowledge gained in my master’s degree to address biodiveristy loss not only in Brazil but around the world.  In this sense, I want to improve the laws that regulate the environment usage, which does not always meet the interest and good of the population. In addition, I wish to pursue a doctoral degree.

Katie Guetz, Masters candidate, Environmental Science and Policy, School of Earth and Sustainability. Graduating class Spring, 2020

My thesis research, Prioritizing Dam Removal Sites for Optimal River Restoration and Conservation in the Western U.S., focuses on restoring rivers and enhancing overall landscape connectivity and biodiversity by prioritizing dams for removal in 11 western states using geospatial analysis. This study area encompasses AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA and WY. Additionally, I am analyzing  altered watersheds, selected through this analysis, in order to better understand the impacts of dam removal on the geomorphology, biodiversity, and connectivity of riverine systems. Further, my research takes into consideration the socio-political aspect of dam removal and seeks to uncover where river restoration might be most successful. My research is supported by the Landscape Conservation Initiative Science-Policy Fellowship and the Henry Hooper Student Fund. My long-term career goal is to use interdisciplinary and research-based solutions to restore and manage degraded watersheds and surrounding fragmented lands in the western United States. As a native to the Intermountain West, I have witnessed a lot of the changes that have occurred across the landscape. I hope to use my background, education, and skills to assist in the restoration of these special places-rivers in particular. †

James Major, Masters candidate, Environmental Science and Policy, School of Earth and Sustainability. Graduating class Spring, 2020

I am studying the suitability of rivers that are potentially eligible for designation into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. I graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.S. in Geography with focuses in GIS and Physical Geography. My interest in free-flowing rivers that was sparked while working on multiple river restoration and protection related projects at UO led me to join Dr. Perry’s lab at NAU in the Fall of 2018.  I intend on continuing to work towards protecting existing intact rivers and restoring degraded rivers upon completion of my M.S. in Spring of 2020.

Sarah Smith, Masters candidate, Environmental Science and Policy, School of Earth and Sustainability. Graduating class Spring, 2020

My thesis research, entitled The Role of Conservation Policy in Preserving Ecosystem Services in New Mexico’s Gila River Network, examines the ecosystem services that exist in New Mexico’s Gila River and how conservation policies, including the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, may impact these services in the face of climate change and development proposals. My interest in this area of study stems from working as an outdoor guide and environmental educator within the Southwest’s public lands and rivers. Because my passion lies in teaching others about the importance of protecting our natural resources, I hope to work within the education or outreach sector of an organization that is committed to preserving our exceptional lands and waters. My research is supported in part by funding from American Rivers, New Mexico Wild, and the Henry Hooper Student Award. 

Riley Swanson

Riley Swanson

Masters student, Geology, School of Earth and Sustainability. Graduating class Spring, 2020

My research interests are based in hydrogeology.  I am investigating the amount of groundwater contribution to the Colorado River for my thesis, Quantifying the Base Flow of the Colorado River Through a Water Budget Analysis. This study funded by the National Park Service and the US Bureau of Land Management involves a broad synthesis of extant data and the collection of new data where gaps exist in the literature.  Part of my research investigates the understudied drainage basins in southern Utah and Northern Arizona to quantify the base flow of the tributaries to the Colorado River in these regions.  Another aspect of this work involves identifying and evaluating the surface water and groundwater policies surrounding the river.  This research will shed light to on the water resource issues within the basin states and help water managers better allocate the resource. In my career I hope to continue to work in the water resource management field and help to balance the growing need for natural resources with what is sustainable.

Daniel overlooking the Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica

Daniel Garcia

Bachelor of Science Environmental & Sustainability Studies. Graduating class Spring, 2020

My senior capstone internship, under the tutelage of Dr. Perry, is with the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly helping in the preparation of a bill proposal to protect its hydrological basin(s) from new hydroelectric dam development. In the future I would like a career in water resource management.


NAU’s River Research Lab students can participate in activities such as this trip: Interdisciplinary SES faculty, graduate students, and alumni take to the river: Field-based learning about geology and policy on the Yampa River

School of Earth and Sustainability | School of Earth and Sustainability