First Advisor

Jeremy Spoon

Term of Graduation

Fall 2020

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Anthropology






Spring ecology -- Nevada -- Desert National Wildlife Range, Water-supply -- Nevada -- Desert National Wildlife Range -- Management, Restoration ecology, Southern Paiute Indians -- Social conditions -- History, Traditional ecological knowledge



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 191 pages)


Aridland springs are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Vital to desert ecologies and Indigenous cultures, these complex and individualistic ecosystems have layered histories. To inform management in the changing landscape of Desert National Wildlife Refuge, a 1.6 million acre protected area in Southern Nevada, I conducted a historical ecology study of a sample of ten upland springs. Through a six-part interdisciplinary methodology including interviews, archaeological survey, botanical survey, and archival research, I summarize findings into three broad eras: the Nuwu/Nuwuvi pre-Contact Era, the Settler Era, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Era.

For millennia, Nuwu/Nuwuvi drank and camped near upland springs seasonally and still consider springs sacred and in need of specific care. Euro-American consumptive value of springs drove their modification along with large-scale changes to the landscape through prior appropriation for "beneficial use" water policy, entailing negative impacts upon springs. Springs remain developed under USFWS to maximize available water to Desert bighorn sheep. I found that the springs are likely moderately to highly disturbed in their current state due to changes to their physical integrity, vegetation, and riparian habitat. I identified climate change, groundwater extraction, and uncertain land tenure as major threats to these spring systems.

Recommendations for the future management of springs and surrounding archaeological resources include collaborative restoration to "naturalize" spring form and function alongside Nuwu/Nuwuvi tribal members. At the nexus of Indigenous territory, military expansion, drought, and an expanding desert metropolis, this case study connects political and cultural dimensions of human-spring relationships across the desert Southwest region, where springs hold disproportionately large importance both ecologically and culturally.


© 2020 Yarrow Sarah Valentine Geggus

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