​Dr. Kimberly Kirner, associate professor of anthropology, leads an interdisciplinary team investigating complex questions about how climate and policy change affect human-environment relationships in arid regions.​

Dr. Kirner's project examines how the relationship between water availability and plant communities has changed in the Eastern Sierra over the last 50 years. Kirner, her faculty collaborators, and three CSUN graduate students conducted field work at the White Mountain Research Station in 2014 and 2015. They collected plant samples, conducted vegetation transects, took spectrometer readings, compared field data to remote satellite images, and characterized plant communities.

The researchers bolstered this empirical data with photographs, maps, reports and other archival documents, as well as interviews that included area residents, ranchers, and members of four Paiute and Paiute-Shoshone tribes. A final year of analysis will clarify how climate change and policy change together will shape the landscape. The data will be used to help Los Angeles water conservation organizations educate Angelenos on how water use affects a much broader region.

Krystal Kissinger, an anthropology graduate student, was motivated to participate in the project because her thesis research focused on the history of labor surrounding the construction of the first Los Angeles aqueduct, and the archaeology of the work camps that extended from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.

"I believe if more people understood where the water that comes out of their faucet came from, and that it is a limited resource, then they might become more conscientious of their water usage," says Kissinger. Since completing her work on Kirner's project and graduating with her master's degree, Kissinger has joined the National Forest Service in the Eastern Sierra.