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 Global 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. You can read more about my work here:

Affiliate Researchers


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, examined 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. Today I am the the Associate Director of the Southwest Rivers Program of American Rivers.

Ellis, R.*, & Perry, D. (2020). A Confluence of Anticolonial Pathways for Indigenous Sacred Site Protection. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, (169), 8–26.

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 finished the 4+1 program in pursuit of a BS in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and an MA in Sustainable Communities in Spring 2022. Upon graduating, I also 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. I also contributed to the “Global Analysis of Durable Policies for Free-flowing River Protection,” conducted graduate thesis research on energy transitions related to the Central Arizona Project, and served as president of NAU’s 4th Annual Student Water Symposium organizing committee.

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. Today I am a PhD student at Florida International University.

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., focused on restoring rivers and enhancing overall landscape connectivity and biodiversity by prioritizing dams for removal in 11 western states using geospatial analysis. Today I work at the Teton Regional Land Trust as a Land Steward.

Guetz, K*., Joyal, T., Dickson, B., Perry, D. (2021) Dam Removal Prioritization in the West: An Optimization Approach for River Restoration and Conservation. Restoration Ecology. (Received 2022 ESA Early Career Publication Award)

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

I studied 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. Today I work as the National Rivers Project Coordinator of the River Management Society.

Major, J*., Aslan, C., McManamay, R., Perry, D. (2021) Identifying gaps in protected areas to expand integrated riverine ecosystem conservation. Conservation Science and Practice.

Major, J*., K. Guetz*, D. Perry (2020). National Wild and Scenic Rivers System-NHDv2 Seamless Merge, HydroShare,

Sarah Smith, MS, 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, examined 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 research was supported in part by funding from American Rivers, New Mexico Wild, and the Henry Hooper Student Award.  Today I work for the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico.

Riley Swanson

Riley Swanson

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

My research interests are based in hydrogeology.  I investigated 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 involved a broad synthesis of extant data and the collection of new data where gaps exist in the literature. 

Swanson, R.*, Springer, A., Kreamer, D. Tobin, B., Perry. D. (2020). Quantifying the base flow of the Colorado River: its importance in sustaining perennial flow in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Hydrogeology Journal.  

Swanson, R.*, Perry, D., Springer, A. (In Review). Policy Deficiencies and Contingency Plans: The Implications of Groundwater Management on Base Flow Contributions to the Colorado River. Journal of American Water Resources.

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 Free-flowing RIvers 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