Key speakers

We were pleased to feature several key speakers from all around the United States this year. Scroll down to read about these speakers and their presentations.

photo of Aja DeCoteau

Aja DeCoteau

Watershed Department Manager, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Why watersheds matter: How tribes are leading the way in the Columbia River basin

If we are to be successful in our conservation efforts–regardless of whether our goal is enhancing populations of particular species, improving water quality, protecting and restoring habitat, or reducing flooding–we cannot take a merely site-based approach. We have to think more holistically, and in water conservation, that means thinking at a watershed scale. Aja DeCoteau explains why this is true, drawing on her years of experience enacting conservation in the Columbia River basin in the northwest US. While contemporary science bears out the efficacy of a watershed focus, it is not a new idea. Many Native American tribes have been applying watershed-based approaches for thousands of years in their cultural and natural resource management. Hear how Columbia Basin tribes are leading the way in advancing watershed approaches to cultural and natural resources conservation and restoration in the Columbia River basin.  
About Aja DeCoteau

Aja DeCoteau is a citizen of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and has other tribal lineage with the Cayuse, Nez Perce, and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. She has more than twenty years’ experience working on natural resource management and policy issues in the Columbia River Basin. She is the Watershed Department Manager for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, OR, where she coordinates fisheries restoration and watershed protection activities on behalf of the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Warm Springs tribes.  She received her bachelor’s in environmental studies and Native American studies from Dartmouth College and holds a master’s in environmental management from Yale University.

Learn more about Aja’s work:

Dudley Edmondson

Dudley Edmondson

Photographer, filmmaker, and author

Attempting to understand the disconnect between African Americans and the outdoors

Why are African Americans and other people of color underrepresented in the field of conservation and in the outdoors more broadly? Author and nature photographer Dudley Edmondson explores our nation’s history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the resulting current social and economic factors that are now part of African American lives and how these events shape the relationship between people of color and the outdoors. His presentation helps us all “connect the dots” and identify ways we can be more deliberate and inclusive in our conservation work, whether through broadening our outreach and partnerships or training the next generation of wetland professionals.

About Dudley Edmondson
Dudley Edmondson is well-known as a professional photographer and author. He is also an accomplished filmmaker and public speaker. Much of his work centers on the environment and ethnic diversity in the outdoors. He was one of the first to highlight the involvement of African Americans in the public lands system. Unsatisfied with the numbers of people who looked like him among those he encountered in his outdoor pursuits, Edmondson set out to create a set of outdoor role models for the African American community by writing his landmark book, Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places (AdventureKeen Publications 2006), featuring luminaries in the environmental and outdoor recreation fields. He has also been immersed in the effort to help the conservation sector become more inclusive.
Photo of Katie Jagt

Katie Jagt

Senior Water Resources Engineer, Watershed Science + Design

How creative partnerships and locally-driven planning can build resilient watersheds

In 2013, the Front Range of Colorado was hit with catastrophic floods across the northeast quarter of the state, devastating communities, agriculture, and infrastructure.  While river professionals tend to think of floods as natural processes that the river can use to recover, this attitude is at odds with the objectives of most flood recovery programs.  Forward thinking and creativity in the development and implementation of several local, state, and federal recovery programs laid the groundwork for significant investment in more ecologically aware and geomorphically appropriate flood recovery work, including floodplain and floodplain wetland restoration. This approach involved both private and public sector partners and sought to identify cost-effective solutions.

About Katie Jagt

Katie is a senior engineer and fluvial geomorphologist with 16 years of experience working in the river restoration and flood management fields. She is the founder of Watershed Science and Design, a small consulting firm located in Boulder, CO, that was built to focus on developing sophisticated, creative, and science-based solutions to river management problems. Katie has a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to do post-graduate research at TU Delft in The Netherlands on the intersection of flood management and river restoration. Since 2014, she has been focused on assisting the State of Colorado’s 2013 flood recovery efforts and is a lead author of the State of Colorado’s Fluvial Hazard Zone Delineation Protocol. Katie understands how human actions and interventions can influence a river system—and vice versa—and is immersed in helping communities navigate the inter-connectedness and inter-dependencies of the physical and social landscape within watersheds.

More information about Katie’s work:

Photo of Mike Klein

Mike Kline

River Ecologist/Geomorphologist, Fluvial Matters, LLC

How state programs can protect and restore rivers, wetlands, and watersheds

Historic practices and policies were leading the state of Vermont and many Vermont municipalities to an unsustainable future. Ongoing land drainage, the loss of flow and material storage in streams, wetlands, and floodplains, and the subsequent extreme losses from erosion were all exacting steep costs on nearly all sectors of the Vermont economy. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) worked to create a common, science-based understanding of these impacts. Using the science of fluvial geomorphology as an organizing principle, the DEC worked to co-develop programs across agencies in the state to restore the natural hydrologic functions of Vermont watersheds, working with agencies that implemented regulatory, technical assistance, and funding programs. Today, responding to repeated flood disasters and drawing on statewide stream geomorphic assessments, legislative mandates for new investments are beginning to mitigate the ongoing losses. Learn from Mike Kline, a key architect of the state program, about how the state of Vermont continues to develop its benefit-cost story, using the best available science, to support a “No Adverse Impact” standard adopted for state river, river corridor, and floodplain management. Kline also shares the importance of technical assistance and funding incentive programs for watershed groups and towns so that they can adopt local standards and work with landowners to implement the voluntary changes in land use so critical to Vermont’s resiliency.

About Mike Kline

Mike is consulting on river and floodplain science and policy after a career developing the Rivers Program at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Mike remains committed to working on river conservation and management programs centered on restoring landscape-scale, fluvial processes to achieve and maintain river and floodplain connectivity. Over the years, Mike has worked with scientists, planners, and engineers across academia, government agencies, and NGOs to develop and apply stream geomorphic and habitat assessment protocols, fluvial erosion hazard mapping, as well as river and floodplain management principles and practices. Learn more about Mike’s work.

Photo of Dorothy Merritts

Dorothy J. Merritts

Professor of Geosciences and Chair of Environmental Studies, Franklin & Marshall College

How an understanding of landscape history, processes, and human impacts can improve stream and wetland restoration

Both landscape legacies and modern land use matter in diagnosing causes of stream and floodplain degradation, bank erosion, and high sediment loads in streams; considering them in concert can lead to more effective solutions and policies to restore waterways. Throughout the mid-Atlantic region of the US, historic sediment commonly overlies hydric soils formed by wetland complexes, now mostly buried, that were stable ecosystems for the previous ~11,000 years. Similar conditions exist in parts of Wisconsin. After the glaciers retreated, streams and floodplain wetlands spread and stabilized in valley bottoms. Streams with multiple channels that divide and reconnect (called “anastomosing channels”) along with low banks, frequent overbank flow, and wetland floodplains accumulated organic matter for millennia. Carbon dating and seed bank analyses indicate that these historic wetland complexes hosted sedges, grasses, and rushes interspersed with patches of shrubs and trees. The lost legacies of these buried, resilient wetland landscapes have played no role in stream restoration practice until recently, largely because they were unknown. Using a restoration test case in Pennsylvania following years of research documenting pre- and post-restoration conditions, this presentation highlights a new cost-effective aquatic ecosystem restoration approach that integrates process and form-based restoration principles and relies on an understanding of geologic history.

About Dorothy Merritts

Dorothy Merritts is a geologist with expertise in streams, rivers, and other landforms and the impact of humans and geologic hazards on landscape evolution. Her primary current research is investigating the role of human activities in transforming the woodland and wetland ecosystems of Eastern North America and the influence of periglacial processes on landscape evolution. She is the Harry W. & Mary B. Huffnagle Professor of Geoscience in the Department of Earth and Environment at Franklin Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She earned a bachelor’s from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a master’s from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.

Learn more about Merritt’s work:

Photo of Colin Thorne

Colin Thorne

Professor and Chair of Physical Geography, University of Nottingham UK

How rivers and wetlands work—and work better together

The work of a river is returning water to the oceans after it has fallen as rain or snow. However, rivers are not alone in performing this work. While a great deal of the runoff from rain and snow quickly drains back to where it came from through streams and rivers, a lot infiltrates underground, seeping slowly through the porous soils and rocks. Wetlands are places where water is both temporarily stored during its journey back to the ocean, and where water is exchanged between the surface and sub-surface parts of the drainage system. Wetlands function as capacitors in the hydro-cycle by storing water during storms, then gradually releasing it during dry periods. While rivers and wetlands can—and often do—work independently, the hydro-system is more resilient when and where they are connected because this facilitates runoff being stored, released, transported, and exchanged between surface and groundwater in ways that naturally modulate variability in river flow, soil moisture level, and depth to groundwater. This presentation describes what happens when rivers and wetlands are artificially disconnected, and it shows how restoring river-wetland connectivity can make coupled river-floodplain-wetland systems resilient to floods, droughts, and fires.

About Colin Thorne

Colin Thorne is chair of physical geography at Nottingham University, UK. He has a bachelor’s of science and Ph.D. in environmental sciences. His first faculty post was at Colorado State University and, in USA, he has worked for the USDA, USACE, and NOAA. His work centers on water science and its application to water management in rivers and cities. He advises governments and cities on water sustainability, security, and resilience, nationally and internationally. He currently lives and works part-time as a consultant in Vancouver WA, using his knowledge of the importance of river-wetland connectivity to improve river restoration policy, design, and implementation.

More information:

Photo of Joe Wheaton

Joe Wheaton

Ecogeomorphologist, Fluvial Scientist, & Restoration Practitioner, Utah State University & Anabranch Solutions

Let the river do the work: how low-tech solutions and partnerships can help us get to scale

Restoring healthy riparian landscapes—conditions where rivers, floodplains, and associated wetlands are well connected—might sound like a daunting task. While complicated solutions are necessary in some complex situations, these come with higher price tags and cannot be the solution everywhere. To truly address the spatial scope of degradation of healthy riparian landscapes, we need simple solutions that can be scaled up in a cost-effective manner. Low-tech, process-based restoration focuses on restoring physical processes that lead to healthy riparian landscapes. This approach seeks to maximize restoration efforts through scalable practices that initially mimic, quickly promote, and eventually restore self-sustaining processes to maintain healthier riparian landscapes. Learn about this process-based approach, the research that demonstrates its successes, how public-private partnerships can support implementation, and some of the low-tech structures that have been tried and tested in western landscapes and can be adapted to work in Wisconsin.

About Joe Wheaton

Joe Wheaton is an Associate Professor of Riverscapes at Utah State University’s Watershed Science Department. He co-founded the Restoration Consortium at USU and has worked since 2000 in riverscape restoration as both a researcher and practitioner. His research is focused on better understanding the dynamics of riverscapes, how such fluvial processes shape instream and riparian habitats, and how biota modulate and amplify those processes. Much of Joe’s work focuses on taking such understandings and translating them into useful applications. He is the lead author of the Low-Tech Process-Based Restoration of Riverscapes Design Manual and a principal and co-founder of a design-build restoration firm, Anabranch Solutions.