Assistant Professor of Geography
University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA
With my son Ari over the Clark Fork River, Missoula, MT, Summer 2009 - while researching the effects of Columbia River power in western Montana.
Political and Environmental Geography
My research investigates the human-environmental dynamics and histories of rivers. I focus in particular on river governance institutions and policy and their interaction with wide ecological and social processes and needs. I am particularly interested in efforts to protect or restore the natural dynamics of large rivers while also meeting diverse human needs through multi-jurisdictional river basin management. I’ve focused for ten years on the Columbia River system and am working on a book on a seventy-year history of regional Columbia River basin management. I am working toward a project on the Connecticut River, and also a broad comparative river governance project.
Further background: Research perspective and methods
In addition to training in human geography and experience working in river policy, I have background in both population ecology and fluvial geomorphology. I find persuasive the argument that long-term protection and restoration of river ecosystems requires retention or restoration of dynamic natural hydrological, geomorphological and ecological processes and connections. This, however, is a political and infrastructural challenge, for river management often works to control and alter rivers, interrupting natural processes and connections, in order to provide human benefits; and it often divvies up rivers’ benefits, and to a large extent, rivers themselves, to multiple political jurisdictions and user groups. Negotiating amidst these challenges to improve dynamic natural processes and connections, and to address unmet social needs, is a heroic, difficult, goal.
My research investigates and analyzes how such efforts play out over time to affect rivers’ natural and social systems in real-world practice. My methods include interviews, participant-observation, archival research, policy analysis, and GIS and spatial analysis of changing social and biophysical indicators.
Summer 2009 research team: Research Assistant Megan Nagel (UMass Public Policy Masters student), Professor Vogel, son Ari, Babysitter Kate Greene (Amherst Regional HS student), Bethany Pratt (Portland State Geography Masters student). At Grand Teton National Park, on the way between research weeks in western Montana and Idaho Falls, ID.
I have a Masters in Education, considerable teaching experience, and am strongly committed to teaching and pedagogy. At UMass I have taught/am teaching/will teach the following courses:
Seminar: Rivers as Regions
Geosci 102: The Human Landscape
Geosci 380/694: Political Geography: Nation-states, environment & development (every spring)
- Geosci 497/697: Water geographies: conflict & sustainability (every other spring semester)
- Geosci 497/697: Geography Policy & the Environment (every other fall semester)
Shoshone Falls on the Snake River, near Twin Falls, ID. This was the uppermost point salmon could reach on the Snake River before impassable dams were built lower in the river system. Many years the falls have only a trickle of water because of upstream irrigation diversions but in 2009 the river was full and the falls a spectacular sight.
Connecticut River at Turners Falls, MA. The old mills and canal are right behind the Great Falls Discovery Center, where a consortium of agencies and communities are working to educate the public on the rich natural, cultural and industrial history of the Connecticut River.
I’ve had an eclectic career. The theme over time has been trying to merge environmental conservation, social justice, and thoughtful analysis of how the two may be coordinated – as well as what are the constraints on this coordination. My current research on long-term river basin governance and politics and its social and environmental consequences follows this theme.
I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and went to high school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. In college at Yale I majored in environmental biology and spent two summers as a research assistant studying beetle and spider behavioral ecology. I loved science but by the time I graduated I knew I wanted something that could address some of the human causes and consequences of environmental problems.After college, I joined the Peace Corps, working in wildlands management and environmental education in Honduras. I worked with foresters, agricultural extension agents, farmers, and especially rural teachers to help educate people about the importance of cloud forests. (They’re important biodiversity refuges and critical sources of water, as well as places where nearby peasants can supplement their resources with game and medicinal plants.) I loved my job, but over time I became convinced that most environmental and social strains in Honduras were caused at least as much by U.S. policy and economics as by any lack of education in Honduras. I decided I needed to learn more about how to influence environmental policy and practice back in the U.S.
In 1990 I returned to the US and in 1991, I moved to Portland, Oregon. For two years I worked at the Audubon Society of Portland in environmental education. In 1993 I went back to school to get a high school teaching certificate, and from 1994-1997 I taught high school biology, math and Spanish in inner city Portland and at a new arts school in Vancouver, Washington.
In 1997 I left high school teaching to work more directly on environmental policy change. Working for the Sierra Club and the Oregon Natural Resources Council, I learned how to write an Endangered Species petition; I edited an economics report on the economics of removing four federal dams on the lower Snake River; and I went on two group lobbying trips to Washington, DC. This was a tremendously educational year for me, as it gave me great insights into policy-making and political negotiating processes, but ultimately I decided I needed to step back and understand the issues more broadly.
I returned to graduate school in 1998 at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, in the Department of Geography. As a graduate student, I TAed both Biology and Geography courses, and taught six of my own classes at the University of Oregon and at Portland State University, ranging from “Law, Geography and the Environment” to “Geography of East Asia.” My son Ari was born in 2004. I earned my PhD in December 2007 and moved to Amherst to work as Assistant Professor at UMass in summer 2008.
Link to my CV (PDF)