Free-flowing Rivers Lab

 Current people and projects:


Denielle M. Perry

Current research agenda:

  • Analyzing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a policy framework for re-Indigenizing river governance.
  • Integrating Dynamic Interactions and Feedbacks among Socio-ecological Diversity, Connectivity, and Resilience to Inform the Future of Riverine Ecosystem Conservation.
  • Conservation as a nature-based solution for climate adaptation and resilience

Co-chair of the international Durable River Protections Coalition.

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


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.

Sarah Burnham

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.

Monica Pech Cardenas

Ph.D. student, Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability. School of Earth and Sustainability. 

Fulbright-Garcia Robles funded. She received her M.Sc. in Marine Biology from Research Center and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV). Her recent projects involved the study of the carbon cycle in mangrove ecosystems and their relationship with climate change. She has participated in evaluations of carbon stocks and CO2 emissions of both natural and restored mangroves in Mexico. In addition, she has worked with Mayan community leaders from developing carbon forestry projects under the recent climate change mitigation policies in Mexico. Her studies at NAU will focus on evaluating environmental regulation regarding mangroves in Mexico and mangrove management efforts to increase climate change resilience. 

Stephannie de Souza Fernandes

Stephannie Fernandes

Masters student, Environmental Science and Policy, School of Earth and Sustainability. Expected graduation Spring, 2021

Prior to beginning the MSc program at NAU I worked as a lawyer in Brazil. Now my research 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.



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:

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