Monday, August 3, 2009 - 4:40 PM

COS 1-10: Improving springs ecosystem stewardship: A rapid multi-cultural inventory and assessment approach

Colleen A. Cooley, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and Lawrence E. Stevens, Museum of Northern Arizona and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.


Springs are among the most biologically diverse and productive terrestrial ecosystems, and are of cultural importance to all indigenous tribes in the southwestern United States. However, springs are highly threatened ecosystems because of inadequate inventory and direct human impacts from groundwater pumping, livestock grazing, recreation, fire, and wildlife management. We developed a rapid cultural inventory and assessment (RCIA) protocol to describe, quantify, and compare tribal cultural values associated with springs on the Colorado Plateau, and analyze relationships between the geomorphologic, biological, and cultural diversity of springs. A survey form was designed to protect sensitive tribal information about springs while providing the tribe with an overview of cultural values and risks facing springs resources, and a way to archive georeferenced data, interviews, and images. We interviewed several tribal representatives to filter the form, add or refine values we overlooked, and learn more about tribal concerns for springs. For example, while the conservation and restoration of springs are important to tribes, the traditional human uses are highly valued. Therefore, sustainability of both the ecological and human dimensions of springs are important to many tribes.


The categories considered as important for springs included archaeology, education/knowledge, ethnobiology, recognition and listing status, site sacredness, economic significance, tribal history, and legal status. We led discussions of the RCIA at three tribal springs workshops to provide tribes with the tools needed for comprehensive springs ecosystem inventory, assessment, and information management and archival. The RCIA was also designed to: 1) educate tribes about springs; 2) distinguish resources of concern at individual springs; and 3) prioritize springs management issues across tribal lands. Representatives from five tribes were present at these workshops. Working with the tribes on this potentially sensitive topic required careful explanation and assurance that sensitive information remained solely tribal intellectual property. The tribes interviewed expressed broad support for the categories developed in the survey but, all do not necessarily value every RCIA protocol equally or share the same values at springs of mutual concern. Although the positive relationship among geomorphologic, biological, and cultural values of springs proved inconsistent among tribes there was no need to alter the hypothesis of this relationship. Nonetheless, the RCIA protocols provided successful education and collaboration that can improve tribal stewardship practices, and these refined methods can be applied elsewhere.