How can we develop approaches to environmental management that are both ecologically sustainable and socially just?

Our lab conducts research related to the human dimensions of natural resources with a focus on fisheries, marine and coastal systems, and Indigenous perspectives and rights. Generally our research is collaborative and applied. We seek to develop collaborative relationships with natural resource-dependent communities to examine how they navigate both political and ecological changes in their resource systems. We draw from a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the social dimensions of natural resource issues.  Ultimately, we use our research to consider how environmental management and planning can better incorporate community concerns and perspectives.

Currently our lab is focused on six broad (and overlapping) research themes:

Fishing Communities:
save_fishermanDue to a variety of political and ecological factors, we are seeing trends of decline in small-scale and artisanal fisheries in the United States. In some areas the reduction is so extreme that fishermen have taken to calling themselves “endangered species”. Along with many collaborators, we develop research that explores the socioeconomic dimensions of fishing communities. The aim of this research is to provide managers with better information about the communities connected to the resources they regulate and to contribute to thinking about how fishing communities can reduce vulnerabilities and remain viable and strong.

Selected Projects:

  • Fishing Community Sustainability Planning for the ports of Eureka and Shelter Cove on the California North Coast — project website:
  • Socioeconomic dimensions of the Humboldt Bay mariculture industry
  • Baseline Monitoring of the Fishing Communities of the North Coast of California (related to North Coast MPA network)
  • Socio-ecological Dimensions of Montane Lake Fisheries in the Trinity Alps (project by graduate student Emma Lundburg)
  • Examining the Socioeconomic Impacts of Hawaii’s 2010 Bigeye Tuna Closure
  • Hawaii Fish Flow Study: Sociocultural Dimensions of Fish Distribution from the Honolulu Fish Auction
  • History and Future of Fishing in the Alaska Native Village of Old Harbor

Coastal Resilience/Sea Level Rise (SLR):
Humboldt Bay (adjacent to the HSU campus and surrounding community) is experiencing the highest rate of sea level rise in the state of California. This has required the community to be proactive in terms of planning for a future with higher seas. There are a number of complex social, economic, political, and environmental considerations that factor into effective sea level rise planning. Projects include:

  • Dr. Richmond is a founding member and co-director of the Humboldt State University Sea Level Rise Institute which brings together an interdisciplinary team of scholars and practitioners to develop research and planning materials related to SLR in the region.
  • Graduate student Kristina Kunkle collaborated with Aldaron Laird and Humbodlt County to host community SLR workshops in vulnerable bay-adjacent communities of King Salmon and Fairhaven. Kunkle conducted follow-up interviews in King Salmon to assess community perceptions of sea level rise.
  • Worked with a team of HSU undergraduates to examine the planning considerations for Jacobs Avenue, a low lying property adjacent to the bay that is vulnerable to flooding even today and that contains businesses that are vital to the region’s economy and tax base.

Jacobs Ave


Indigenous Rights and Perspectives:
Native American tribes are sovereign nations and many Indigenous groups have distinct legal rights to natural resources based on historic claims. In addition, Indigenous communities often have unique sociocultural connections to particular regions and places based on long histories of interaction. Mainstream environmental management often overlooks these factors which can lead to challenges in the implementation of management actions and to environmental justice implications for Tribal communities. We examine ways that environmental management can better incorporate Indigenous rights and perspectives. Our research also examines the way that the continuing context of colonialism affects Indigenous people’s access to and relationship with culturally important natural resources.

Selected Projects:

  • Fire Sovereignty: Exploring the Impacts of Fire Suppression on Yurok Cultural Food Propagation and Examining Efforts to Restore Fire to the Ancestral Territory (project by graduate student Anthony Barela Nystrom)
  • Incorporating Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice into Fishery Management: Comparing Policy Challenges and Potentials from Alaska and Hawaii
  • Documenting Traditional Indigenous Fishing in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument
  • Alaska Native Perspectives on the Ecology and Management of the Pacific Halibut Fishery

Human Dimensions of Marine Protected Areas:
Marine protected areas (MPAs) – or sections of the ocean set aside where human activities such as fishing are restricted – have been growing in popularity as a marine conservation tool. But, as can be seen in the image below, they have also been quite controversial in communities where they’ve been implemented. As MPAs continue to be developed in new places it is crucial to gather empirical information about their social and ecological effects. Our research examines the social and economic dimensions of MPAs looking at issues such as: socioeconomic impacts of MPAs on resource users, governance processes through which MPAs are designated and managed, and community perceptions of the management and ecology of MPAs. Our work is often conducted through an environmental justice lens to investigate whether certain groups are disproportionately affected by MPAs.

NCmpas  242

Selected Projects:

  • Collaborated with Ecotrust to develop formal recommendations for the long-term monitoring of human uses in the context of California’s MPA network.
  • Socioeconomic dimensions of MPAs: Establishing a baseline and assessing initial changes in California North Coast fisheries
    • Collaborative project with Steve Hackett (HSU Economics) and Cheryl Chen (Point 97)
    • In summer of 2014 the research team (including Lucia Ordonez-Gauger) gathered 200+ surveys from commercial and charter fishermen and conducted focus groups in each of the major ports of the region (Fort Bragg, Shelter Cove, Eureka, Trinidad, and Crescent City)
  • Documenting Historical Use of the Marinas Trench Marine National Monument (a large-scale MPA near the US territories of Guam and CNMI) and Assessing Sociocultural Impacts of Potential Monument Regulations
    • Collaborative project with Dawn Kotowicz of NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
    • Gathered 40 oral historical interviews with individuals from CNMI and Guam who had connections to the monument

Governance of Marine Resources:
Marine resources such as fish can be tricky to manage because they are highly mobile and invisible underwater. They are also common-pool resources shared by a variety of users who have different values and needs. We examine different types of institutional arrangements that have emerged to manage marine resources. We evaluate institutions based on their ecological and social effectiveness. Much of our work has focused on what factors can contribute to successful community-based or co-management arrangements for fisheries governance.

Selected Projects:

  • Designation and Governance of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument
  • Examining Enabling Conditions for Community-based Fisheries Co-management: Comparing Efforts in Hawaii and American Samoa (collaboration with Dr. Arielle Levine, SDSU)
  • International Governance of the Bigeye Tuna Fishery in the WCPFC
  • Governance of the International Pacific halibut Fishery

Environmental Knowledge:
Researchers and managers are increasingly recognizing that communities connected to natural resources possess important knowledge that can contribute to management discussions. We conduct research related to local ecological knowledge (LEK), Indigenous knowledge (IK), and scientific knowledge to examine the ways that different communities relate to and come to know about particular resources. We also explore the political implications of knowledge discussions in environmental management contexts – examining the relations of power between different knowledges and communities in decision-making processes.

Selected Projects:

  • Local and Traditional Knowledge of Eulachon and Lamprey in the Wiyot Ancestral Territory (project by graduate student Kara Simpson)
  • Fishermen’s Local Ecological Knowledge Related to the California North Coast MPAs (project by graduate student Lucia Ordonez-Gauger)
  • Yurok Oral Histories of the Role of Fire on Pepperwood Productivity (project by graduate student Anthony Barela Nystrom)
  • Negotiating a Halibut Biology: Community, Knowledge, and Power in the Formulation of Pacific Halibut Catch Limits


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s