Paper No. 60
Presentation Time: 6:30 PM-8:30 PM
SAN JUAN RIVER FIELD COURSE AT NORTHERN ARIZONA UNIVERSITY
The NAU San Juan River Field Course was developed to help students actively integrate the broad spectrum of disciplines that provide the foundation of environmental research. The course, co-taught by a geologist, a geomorphologist, two biologists, a geoarchaeologist, and a political scientist, consists of weekly sessions during which students and faculty discuss current environmental issues related to the San Juan River ecosystem, followed by an 8-day, 83-mile raft trip on the lower San Juan River. The field excursion focuses on an interdisciplinary study of the San Juan River ecosystem; a comprehensive study of "place" similar to many professional environmental research projects. The San Juan River corridor provides a unique combination of extraordinary geological features, steep environmental gradients, a long history of occupation, and a variety of modern land use practices. One of the values of field education is that it gives students the ability to think in four dimensions (space plus time), and to also subconsciously construct iterative decision-making processes. Students participating in the field course develop hypotheses, establish methodologies, and collect, organize, analyze, and present data on a wide range of topics, building on skills and techniques developed in previous courses. In 2004, students took the lead in exploring potential research questions, and each group of 2-3 students developed a research protocol under the advisement of faculty. Research questions and protocols were often further refined as data were collected and interpreted. Project topics included 1) the effects of biological soil crusts on soil development and surface stability, 2) the effects of native and non-native vegetation on insect and bird populations, 3) the relationship between soil type, soil chemistry, and plant species, 4) the effects of campsite use on soils and plants, and other topics. Student-led evening discussions targeted land management issues ranging from protecting water quality, regulating grazing activities, managing human recreational use, wilderness designation, and preservation of cultural resources. All river trip logistics were very capably managed by Arizona Raft Adventures (AzRA, Flagstaff, Arizona), which allowed the team of instructors to focus entirely on teaching and research.