September 8, 2018 |Flagstaff, Arizona

Yeatts, Michael Oral History Interview


Hi, this is Paul Hirt and Jennifer Sweeney of Arizona State University, speaking with Mike Yeatts of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office and Northern Arizona University. It’s September 8, 2018, and we’re at NAU. Mike, thanks for joining us.

00:00:01 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:00:19

Sure, no problem.

Could you start out by telling us your full name, the positions that you’ve held in the adaptive management program, and the years that you were involved in it?

00:00:20 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:00:28

Okay. Well, my name is Michael Yeatts, and I guess I got involved in the program before there was an adaptive management program. I started back in 1991, with the original Glen Canyon Environmental Studies, which is the first EIS [Environmental Impact Study] that led up to the adaptive management program, what created it. And so, you know, at the beginning I was doing research for the Hopi. I got hired in 1991 for the—you know, with the Hopi Tribe, and it was specifically for, at that time, the GCES program. And so I was primarily doing the research end of the Hopi involvement, although I was also involved in a lot of the cooperators meetings for the development of the EIS, and was on the writing team for the original EIS [P.H.: Ahh], the ’95, ’96 EIS. But a lot of what I was doing was research in the Canyon for both the ethnohistory of the Hopi Tribe down there, in conjunction with, like, T.J. Ferguson, who the tribe hired as a consultant. I was doing archaeological surveys of the Little Colorado River, which was going to be the focus of a lot of the fish research, the endangered fish work. And it’s, culturally, a very important place for the Hopi, so they were concerned that we made sure we documented what areas were culturally important there so they wouldn’t be impacted by the work. And then I also was working some with the Park Service doing archaeological work down there.

Were you’re working with Jan Balsom on that big survey? They had a whole series of trips that did a comprehensive survey of the river?

00:02:19 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:02:27

I wasn’t working on the [Grand Canyon National] Park’s actual survey. We kind of overlapped, but the survey I did in the Little Colorado River was the parallel to what the Park was doing. So, it was to make sure that stretch also had a comprehensive archaeological and cultural inventory, to go along with the Park’s, for the whole river corridor.

So, and the years you were doing that was 1991, ’92 , ’93.

00:02:49 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:02:54

Yes, basic, you know, the devel–the research to essentially record information for the Hopis to support the positions in the original EIS were from, essentially, 1991 to 1995, more or less, I mean, it was ongoing, continued ever since. But that was the primary focus, was to be able to document stuff for the cultural sections in the EIS and then, you know as part of that I was involved on the writing teams for it to make sure the Hopi stuff got integrated correctly. And parallel with that, and actually a little earlier than the completion of the EIS, was the development of the Section 106 cultural resources compliance for the National Historic Preservation Act. And that actually was completed in 1994, I believe. And so, we were writing the programmatic agreement at the same time for addressing the cultural resources issues.

So let me ask you, the work that was done to comply with the Historic Preservation Act, I guess, um, was that foundational, then, to the EIS or are those separate documents?

00:04:03 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:04:17

They’re sep–they were separate documents, and I think some of the confusion that we’re in still with the different roles and compliance responsibilities for Section 106 and for the broader NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] date back to that time period, because we–when the dam was constructed, there was cultural resources work upstream but never downstream. And so, the first swipe we took at developing a cultural resources compliance program for downstream was basically independent of the EIS. I mean it triggered it all off, but it was specifically for the operations of the dam, which sort of was what the EIS was, but not entirely. Normally you would do the EIS and then, either during the development of it or following it, do the compliance for whatever the selected alternative was. We just did it on the overall operations of the dam. And so, it was completed before the EIS was. But it also meant that the cultural program was never as well integrated into the overall, what became the AMP [Adaptive Management] program. Whereas, parallel to that, the endangered species work, primarily the fish, was developed part and parcel with the EIS, and so a lot of the activities that came out of the EIS were directly aimed at the ESA [Endangered Species Act], you know, compliance. So, we ended up with kind of two parallel programs in a sense where the, when NEPA was done, the ESA stuff became essentially the adaptive management program, whereas the cultural, we were never sure how it fit in, and we’re still not entirely sure. The cultural people I think know how it fits in, but the rest of the program doesn’t, necessarily. So that was one of those legacies out of the original development that they–you know, part of the concern at the time, and part of the reason why the Grand Canyon Protection Act ended up being written, was there wasn’t a lot of, I guess, assurance that we’d ever complete the EIS. And so the thought was, well even if the EIS never gets completed, we want to make sure we do the Section 106 cultural compliance. And so that also is why it’s kind of on a separate path that, you know, when the, when the original EIS was started back in ’89, [P.H.: that’s correct] I think is when it actually–

Got launched.

00:07:12 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:07:13

Yeah. You know, there was no–the politics were such, it wasn’t clear it would ever be completed.

So I think Leigh Kuwanwisiwma mentioned that there was a chapter on the cultural resources for each of the affected tribes integrated into the Record of Decision in 1996. Did the cultural resource inventory work, the ethnohistory work and the archaeological survey work that you all were working on earlier, did that get integrated into that Record of Decision, or is it still remaining as sort of a parallel path with some integration but not full?

00:07:23 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:07:56

I would say some. Essentially the tribes that were involved, I think one of the—the really progressive, innovative things with the original EIS was how integral the tribes were brought into the process, and I think Dave Wegner had a lot to do with that. But it meant that, rather than us just generating a report that then someone else took and tried to put in the EIS, we were able to do our own research to document stuff. And most of the tribes kept the really detailed report confidential, because there’s a lot of esoteric knowledge and things because, you know, the ties to the Canyon are more than just archaeology. There are–cover a lot of the, at least for Hopi, the really significant values that cause Hopi to be what Hopi is now, you know, in the ceremonial and clan history and all of that. And so, we were able to document that, but then we also were able to put in the EIS the stuff that would support our position, based on that research, but was at a level that was appropriate for other people to see. And so that’s why we were a part of the writing team, was to actually do it ourselves. So, in that sense it did get integrated. The specific cultural surveys were primarily done for the

106 portion of it. And so, while that information certainly fed into the analysis that went on in the EIS for changing the [dam] operations, you know, it wasn’t–I guess duplicated or regurgitated just in that. And certainly, the Record of Decision reflected the views, positions, that came out of all the cultural resources surveys and work.

Can I ask you, who funded that? So when you say Section 106 compliance work, you’re referring to the National Historic Preservation Act?

00:10:06 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:10:14

Correct, right.

Section 106. Who funded that early work before there was an adaptive management program and dedicated funds from hydropower revenues, where did that money come from?

00:10:15 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:10:23

It was Bureau of Reclamation [P.H.: yup?], and I think even then it was hydropower. That’s my understanding. I’m trying to remember. But–it was, I mean it was part and parcel of doing the whole EIS. But it was, because it was a separate law, it was also on its own path, but without the EIS research going on, it wouldn’t have been done.

Somebody else has told us before that most of what really gets a lot of attention in the adaptive management program are those things that have the extra leverage of a legal mandate like the Endangered Species Act. And you just mentioned earlier that that really almost drove the program at the beginning, because the ESA was something you couldn’t ignore. Do you feel the same way about the National Historic Preservation Act, that without that and the Section 106 compliance, that it might’ve been ignored much more than it was?

00:10:51 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:11:28

Umm–yeah, probably. And even, you know, there’s essentially three laws that kind of are driving the program, you know, the Grand Canyon Protection Act, ESA and NHPA. I mean, those are the ones that need to be complied with for the operations. I mean, certainly there’s the whole body of Law of the River stuff that constrains everything. But as far as what is kind of ongoing compliance, those are the three.

Those are the three.

00:12:03 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:12:04

And unfortunately, I don’t think that they’ve all been–well, the Grand Canyon Protection Act is kind of, just, nebulous. I mean, I don’t know how you comply with that other than do something (laughter), but the other two, the Endangered Species Act is certainly the bigger hammer in the program. For a number of reasons, I think. The National Historic Preservation Act is pretty rarely used for lawsuits or those kind of things. It’s just, people rarely sue under it. Whereas under ESA, people get sued all the time (laughter). And so I think that’s, for the Bureau of Reclamation, that’s probably a bigger threat, so they want to make sure. But I think, actually, probably the more important driver for why there’s so much fish work, which is mostly driven by ESA as opposed to just generic research on fish, is because it’s the one resource that pretty much all the Basin states, and particularly the Upper Basin, have an interest in seeing progress, because there’s a large number of development projects in the Upper Basin–water development–that rely on the population of chub down here being healthy, essentially. It’s part of their compliance. And so, whenever you get to funding–ESA is, and stuff that helps the chub, is viewed as important by virtually all the stakeholders. [P.H.: Uh-huh, interesting.] Cultural resources, if we go totally out of compliance, it really doesn’t affect the Upper Basin or much of the Lower Basin. It’s just a Bureau of Reclamation issue. So that also, I think, has driven a little bit how the budgeting has happened, both, you know, since the Record of Decision and since the new ROD [Record of Decision] too, the LTEMP [Long Term Environmental and Management Plan].

Um, you’ve got me thinking about the difference between the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act now. And I’m wondering, you know, in the Endangered Species Act, it requires a bunch of research [M.Y.: right] right up-front, and then you have to come up with a Biological Opinion about the endangerment of whatever it was you were researching. And if it’s found to be threatened or endangered, then you’re required to do something to either recover the species, or certainly to not add any additional jeopardy. Is there anything like that in the National Historic Preservation Act? It certainly funds site surveys, but then is that kind of where it stops and then–

00:14:26 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:15:06

Um, no, it’s actually very parallel. I mean, essentially, what NHPA is saying is that, when a federal agency does something, whether directly or through funding or permitting or whatever, they need to consider their potential effect on historic properties. And so that usually is what triggers the surveys, and identification of what properties are out there. And then you determine what the potential effect to them might be, and if there is an adverse effect, you need to develop ways to mitigate that effect if possible. The place where it somewhat differs, although I’m not an expert on ESA to the point of knowing what latitude a, the lead agency has, but–it’s, the one, Section 106, is a process, and you can go through it and at the end come out and say, “We’ve identified everything, we know we’re having an adverse effect. Oh well, we’re moving forward.” Generally, that isn’t the case. I mean, enough players will come in and say, “You should be doing something,” either modifying the project or, traditionally, for archaeological sites, excavate, that kind of thing. And so that’s just viewed as part of doing business. Um, but it’s within the purview of the lead agency to do nothing, if they go through the whole process. Because if you’re challenged, it’s–all you need to do is document you went through the process. And it does [speaking simultaneously]–

That sounds like the National Environmental Policy Act to me [M.Y.: right]. It’s a procedural process [M.Y.: yes]. You have to do the assessment [M.Y.: right], but it doesn’t tell you what decisions you have to take [M.Y.: right].

00:16:45 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:16:54

You know, and generally, people try to minimize their impact [P.H.: uh-huh]. With ESA, it’s kind of the same thing, you go through and you develop the conservation measures and they probably do–well, I don’t know–if you decide you’re not going to do anything, I don’t know what latitude the agency then has. I mean, can they say, “We’ve changed–we’ve decided we just can’t preserve the species. We’re not going to do what the Fish and Wildlife [US Fish and Wildlife Service] says?”

No, I don’t think they can make (unintelligible)–

00:17:23 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:17:24

You know, they’ll probably be challenged and I know there’s, what do they call it, the God Squad or whatever, that can decide they’re not going to try to save a species. You know, and that’s where, if an agency isn’t doing what it says or what people think it should, you know, they tend to get sued.

But you say not many people sue on the National Historic Preservation Act.

00:17:46 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:17:50

No. It’s pretty rare. And so that, you know, in a sense there’s not as much of a big hammer hanging over if you don’t do it. And again though, generally when you go through NHPA, when you get to the point where you say there’s an adverse effect, then you put together either a memorandum of agreement or a programmatic agreement that stipulates what you’re going to do to mitigate those impacts. And so again, if you have a bunch of stipulations that everyone agrees to and you don’t follow them, then probably you’re legally–in jeopardy in the same way as if there’s a bunch of conservation measures for endangered species and you don’t follow through on them. So, you know, there is still that. So, you know, if an agency agrees to do something and doesn’t, I think they can’t then just ignore it. They’re legally binding.

Well, let me ask you, just following up on that then, how–what’s your judgment about how well the adaptive management program has accommodated, addressed the concerns and requests of the cultural resource professionals like yourself and others?

00:18:51 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:19:11

Um, I mean, throughout the whole program, it certainly gets–you know, a fair amount of attention and things. Monetarily, it’s definitely not anywhere near what the biological or sediment programs are. Although some of the sediment is certainly related to the cultural resource issues. Um, and again, I think some of that is due to just the legacy of how the program developed slightly independent, and what it’s meant is that, you know, in the budgeting process there’s kind of the overall adaptive management budget, but it’s broken down between what the Bureau of Reclamation administers, mostly for their compliance stuff, and then the broader Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center budget for the science. And the cultural resources work, by and large, has been viewed–is synonymous with just NHPA compliance. And beyond that there’s been a fairly limited, I guess, non-compliance cultural resources program. It’s also meant that tribal interests tend to be subsumed under cultural resources, you know, in the beginning, probably because that is kind of where the tribes were involved most as the program developed. But also, it–it’s in a way, I think, easier for the rest of AMP to go, “The Bureau’s dealing with the tribes and cultural, because they’re the same thing.” [P.H.: Uh-huh.]

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Michael Yeatts 00:21:09

So in that sense it hasn’t nearly been as well-integrated into the broader adaptive management program and the broader science. You know, certainly, there’s issues with how do you integrate the tribal knowledge value system into a Western science program. But I think it also has not been done very well. It’s one of those hard ones to address, and there’s both issues of not knowing how to do it, but also just, like I said, some of the legacy issues of how the program developed and how it got handed off to different people. You know, it’s again, is the legacy of, in the GCES days, the tribes kind of came up with what they wanted to do and provided a budget to the Bureau of Reclamation. And, as the research center came into being, you know, initially that was going to be essentially a contract administrative center, and it would contract all the science out, and they would develop RFPs [Request for Proposals] and that kind of thing. For most of the tribal work, they couldn’t really develop RFPs, because the tribe essentially had to do it and then they were the only ones that could do the research. Because the tribes knew what they needed, they needed tribal elder specialists with traditional knowledge to be able to do the research. So, it became essentially, the cultural program at the center was a way to facilitate getting the tribes the money to do the research. And so there was just never a cultural program separate from the tribal work that the center [GCMRC] did much of. I mean they’ve done certainly, stuff, pieces, and then for the archaeology side of it, the Park Service has always done that.

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Michael Yeatts 00:23:18

And again, when they did the original survey, there wasn’t a center at the time, but the Park Service did that work, just like most of the other players did their own work in their own specialties. The tribes each did it, Game and Fish [Arizona Game and Fish Department] did fish work, Fish and Wildlife did their own thing, but it was all funded out of one pot. When the center was kind of taken over to become the coordinating role [for research], the cultural stuff, the Park retained it. The fish stuff became part and parcel of what GCMRC’s, essentially, science was, and the sediment, and they just weren’t sure how to deal with tribal stuff. And so we’ve always been a little on the periphery, both tribal and cultural, in the larger sense. There was, you know, certainly still are, I think, to some extent, some turf wars between different agencies and that kind of thing. So, you know, that’s kind of led to where we are now, which is still somewhat on the outside looking in and the GCMRC–

Do you think that could be remedied?

00:24:28 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:24:31

I think so.

What would it look like? Can you paint us a picture of what it would look like if it was working better?

00:24:32 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:24:38

Um, I think, you know, one of the big needs, essentially, is a unified vision of what the program is. And within that, some of the cultural resource stuff, and then buy-in from all the different players about how to achieve that, essentially. And so, you know, with the Park always doing the archaeology monitoring–you know, they’re, they don’t want an outside agency to be doing that, I don’t think. You know, they view that as something that they do, that’s their management responsibility. But it also means that they decide, kind of, what they’re doing, the protocols, methodologies, those kind of things. And with the programmatic agreements, you know, the other participants in the cultural review things and stuff, certainly, but it’s driven more by the Park, I think, than the broader adaptive management program. Um—you know, and again, the signatories to the PA [Programmatic Agreement] really are the ones who are interested in the cultural resources. And so I think the rest of the Adaptive Management Program stakeholders don’t really want to get involved in that. Whereas with the endangered fish work, like I said, the, they have a vested interest, so they’re willing to push things they see will help recover the fish. Um, for the tribal stuff, you know–you have another federal agency, they’re not going to tell the tribe what they think the tribe should be doing as far as their own research. So that ends up somewhat outside of the program. Um, you know, we’ve tried different things through time. Certainly, I think the best approach has been just a lot of day-to-day involvement. People all working together to come to agreement on some of it, and I mean–I think the adaptive management program is very, been very good at that, having lots of buy-in from lots of different stakeholders. But just the process of how you design research and review it and stuff, it makes it hard when some of the participants have to develop it on their own and then feed it into the program.

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Michael Yeatts 00:27:21

So, that didn’t really answer your question (laughs), but I think we’re kind of doing it as best we can. I think we, you know, the program has to recognize the independence of the different agencies, to some extent, and recognize that they have their own mandates that may dictate how much of a lead role they take in developing some of the stuff. I mean certainly, you know, with the endangered species stuff, Fish and Wildlife pretty much unilaterally says, “These are what you need to do to be in compliance.” The difference has been that then–since they’re not the land owner, they’re willing to let others do that actual, whether it’s management or research or monitoring. So there’s other players that are involved in doing that. For the cultural resources, because the resources are a Park resource–it’s harder from a management perspective and administratively for the Park to yield to some outside groups going, “This is what, this is the way we’re going to manage the cultural resources.” So, you know, we–the way we’ve tried to go about it in the past is put together a historic preservation plan that basically says this is what we want to manage for how we want to go about doing it.

We–when you say we, you mean the Hopi tribe, for example, in your case?

00:28:58 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:29:03

Yeah, as one of them. The signatories to the programmatic agreement.


00:29:07 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:29:07

Both the first one and the one we’re working on now, um, so it’s kind of the groups that are–have an identified role in cultural resource management coming up as a group with how we see the management going forward in the future. The question then becomes, who’s actually going to do that work? And some of that gets back into funding [P.H.: right] and you know, the dam is, I don’t want to say viewed as a large cash register, but it, it has been a solid source of funding outside the normal politics that goes on with, you know, the normal funding cycle. So, you know, people see that as a way to help fund their agencies to do work. You know, and so the Park Service gets funding for monitoring the cultural resources or the archaeological sites. Game and Fish gets some funding for fish monitoring. Fish and Wildlife does some too. I mean every, everyone involved benefits from the program, too. So, so it’s not an easy one. I mean, like I said, when they originally established the center, it was supposed to be a small enterprise that basically just wrote RFPs and contracted work out.

That’s the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center?

00:30:32 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:30:33

Right. And–

And then they started doing their own research [speaking simultaneously}.

00:30:35 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:30:37

They started, and part, yeah. Part of it was because, coming out of GCMRC, a lot of the people who ultimately were at the beginning of Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center were doing the research. And to keep those people on, scientists are interested in doing research, so they started out continuing those programs. And then slowly those programs, you know, it switched from being a contract center to a pure science center that does, does most of the science. Now certainly, there’s still a lot of partners who do stuff, but yeah, I mean it’s become a pretty big science program.

We have spoken to at least one other person who, um, was a little bit disappointed in that change, because, um, there was a lot of money for a lot of research that supported a lot of professional researchers that were either independent, or had their own consulting organization, or worked at a university, and a lot of that money that supported that kind of work dried up when it got, um, sort of concentrated in the GCMRC. Do you see it that way or not?

00:31:21 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:31:52

Um, well certainly, from the tribal side, it really didn’t change things in the sense of being able to get funding because, since the tribes were the only ones that could do the work, you know, whether you went through the center or not, it still came to us [P.H.: right]. Certainly, the funding has never been what we thought was adequate (laughter), but I think probably everyone would say that, no matter what. Um, I think one of the things that it’s led to, and this gets a little back to how could you make it work better, be more integrated, is–since the center develops the budget and work plan (pause), they, you know, it’s their own scientists who are developing a lot of that work. I mean, they get, certainly, guidance from TWG [Technical Work Group] and AMWG [Adaptive Management Work Group]. But really the, the actual development of what research is going to happen to address these bigger questions is driven by the Center. And because it’s the scientists who may be doing the work who are developing it, you know, whether that goes down some pet project sort of roads or not, I mean, you know, it does–certainly there’s checks on the system and there’s lots of projects that get dropped that may be interesting research, but once it reaches TWG and AMWG, it’s like, well, now this is–you have strayed too far and the budget’s limited, and these are much higher priority sort of things. But I don’t know whether, if the center had stayed mostly as a contracting sort of entity, if it would’ve been better at developing research monitoring programs that would be more integrated but also more focused, because others would be bidding on it. You know, and–I don’t know how that–

Instead of self-dealing?

00:33:53 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:33:55

Yeah, and I mean, I certainly don’t want to say that they’re, you know, they are milking the system or anything, but, yeah I mean the researchers are interested in lots of stuff down there and they do really good research, but it’s certainly one of those areas where it can bring in the different personal interests, emphasis to different parts of the program.

One of our interviewees told us that there were occasionally research programs funded and implemented by GCMRC that not everybody in AMWG thought were of the highest value. When you have a limited pot of research funding, you want to sort of fund the programs that are going to provide the greatest value, added value. And this particular interviewee was saying that just because there were researchers at GCMRC committed to this particular line of research, that it kept getting funded even though a majority of people on AMWG were questioning the value of continuing to put money down that pathway. Did you experience anything like that?

00:34:24 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:35:09

Well certainly, yeah, I mean there’s research that different stakeholders questioned. I mean, I think there are enough checks and balances in the system, with all the review that goes on of what the proposed programs are, that I don’t think too much gets through. I mean, it is definitely funding limited. There was a funding limit put on it.


00:35:33 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:35:33

You know, when the ROD was done, the original ROD. And so, I think in that sense, there’s enough oversight that it’s not like it can just run amok and do whatever they want.

So it’s working pretty well.

00:35:45 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:35:46

So I think it works pretty well. I guess, you know, my—you know, the comment about whether or not it’s always the best research that could be done for some bigger picture, you know, again, that’s because most of those research questions are being developed internally. You know, it’s going to be driven by people’s interests to some extent, you know, what they choose to focus on and those kinds of things. So, yeah, it’s relevant. But is it–if you had a totally outside group come in and go, “Okay, we’re going–this is what we think should be done,” and even that, I mean, the program’s been good about getting those kind of reviews, the protocol, the evaluation panel, the PEP [Protocol Evaluation Panel] panels, those kinds of things. We would bring outside people in and go, “This is what we’re trying to achieve, this is what we’re doing. Is this the best way to go about it? Should we change?” There was, so there has been a lot of that. I mean, you know, I think this has been one of the better programs that I know of out there, as far as trying to address a complex system with a very diverse suite of stakeholders and interests.

In the face of great uncertainty.

00:36:58 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:36:59

Yeah. Right. And some of the, some of the issues–you know, in one sense, all the hard issues were resolved in the first EIS (laughs). It’s the hard ones that couldn’t get resolved there that drive adaptive management. And some of the issues, which gets back to the question of, you know, is the research that’s being done something that everyone agrees to or not, is just, what is the scope of the program? Are we, you know, a lot of people are insisting it’s only things that are affected by the day-to-day operations of the dam. For cultural, you know, at least from my perspective, part of the operation of the dam is the fact that there is a dam, but other stakeholders have said, “No, it’s just the daily up-and-down, is all we’re looking at.” And that changes, then, what you think should be studied or not, and what’s in or out of the program.

In a sense, you’re saying: some people are saying the existence of the dam should be off the table.

00:38:02 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:38:06

Right. Oh, they’ve explicitly said that. “It’s not the existence, it’s the operation.” But you know, a large majority of the program is really [about] the existence [of the dam]. I mean the fact that there’s no sediment, it’s cold, clear water, which drives all the fish stuff, you know, that’s an existence of the dam, that isn’t the daily operations. You can’t do much with daily operations to affect those parameters. So, a large part of the program isn’t really looking at existence, but because stakeholders (pause) see value in addressing the endangered fish, we have people working twelve miles up the Little Colorado River. That’s not affected by the daily operations of the dam. But in cultural, they get upset if we go about 45,000 cfs, even though there’s definitely documented indirect effects up there. [P.H.: Sure.] So, you know, some of it’s politics, what people think should or shouldn’t be done.

But generally you’re saying the safeguards in place, the peer review, and the collaborative process, and the multi-stakeholder, that all, you know, nothing’s perfect, and things are working about as well as they could be. And you’re satisfied that, you know–

00:39:13 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:39:13


That’s great.

00:39:31 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:39:32

No, I think by and large, it’s a very good program and, no, I think one of the strongest aspects of the program is that all the stakeholders are still at the table willing to talk to each other after all these years. I mean, you know, bring it up to the present day, when the issues of potentially not having funding for FY ’19 came to a head. When you look at the groups that were collaborating to lobby Congress for legislation, it’s like they’re on diametrically opposed ends of what you would think would be cooperating, but they are. [P.H.: unintelligible.] By and large, a lot of the people in the program have been involved for so long that everyone’s friendly. I mean everyone knows everyone, and so it’s very collegial and, you know, even if we don’t agree on everything, we’re willing to sit down and have a beer afterwards and stuff. So, I mean, that has been a real benefit of the program. And that gets to, I think, that collaborative aspect that, you know, if it becomes a program that looks like it’s only driven by one entity, with just, kind of, input that may or may not go anywhere from everyone, there’s just a lot more distrust. Whereas if everyone feels like they have a say, and even if you don’t get your way, you get that buy-in, I think, and people understand what’s going on, which has been a real benefit.

In your experience is that unusual? Um, you know, the sort of multi-stakeholder, level playing field, everybody negotiating together without one player dominating–is that a pretty unusual situation in natural resource management and historic preservation?

00:41:04 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:41:23

It, it seems like it. Certainly, historically, it is. I mean, it’s gotten better through time. Um, people realize it’s better to, or a lot of agencies have realized, it’s better to have discussions up-front and keep people in the loop than to just essentially check the boxes of what they have to do, and not put any emphasis on, you know, for the tribal stuff it’s the–

The consultation.

00:41:50 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:41:50

The consultation. And there’s a difference between the legal consultation and actual collaborative consultation, where you discuss things. And one of the things that this program, I think, got right really early on, and it was probably accidental, but when we were putting the first programmatic agreement together for the Section 106 compliance, all the different parties were writing that PA, and up until that time PA’s tended to be put together by lead agency and then you put a few “whereas” clauses and stipulations in from other people after they review it and then sign off on it. This one, we developed as a group. And partially, that was because it was after the National Historic Preservation Act had been amended to recognize traditional cultural properties as historic properties, but before the regs had been developed. So no one actually knew how to deal with them, and it made sense that the tribes would probably have as good of idea of how to address that. And so the PA that came out really did what later became in the regs for how to implement the National Historic Preservation Act. And so, you know, that, and then having essentially any of the stakeholders who wanted to be involved in actually drafting the EIS, all working together, we’d go on retreats and things and actually draft sections of it. It wasn’t just a lead agency doing it and then sending it out for review and comment. So, you know, the program came out of, I think, a very collaborative place to start with.

I’m wondering now if you think that, um, the example of the adaptive management program had influence beyond the program itself, had influence on how federal agencies work with stakeholders and tribes. Do you think, um, you know, having to collaborate like that, written into the Grand Canyon Protection Act and the Record of Decision and all of that, that that provided a different example of how to do consultation and how to collaborate with stakeholders that has had impact beyond the adaptive management program?

00:43:44 Paul Hirt

Maybe. Um, yeah, it’s hard to know. I mean, certainly from the tribal side, it, it–since we were let in the door in that process, we were probably more insistent in other places going, “Wait, we want to be more involved in this. We don’t want to just review and comment. We want to actually help with some of the up-front decision making.” You know, certainly tribes have been allowed to provide some of the traditional cultural information and stuff to incorporate into it. But, you know, in the original EIS, we were involved in helping develop different alternatives and, you know, the whole nine yards. And so, in that sense, I think it probably–gave us an idea of what we could do in a collaborative process. You know, from a federal agency side, I don’t know whether they thought it was good or bad, because (laughs) it certainly means more work up-front. It doesn’t go as quick, and some agencies, I’m sure, prefer the old way where they can sit in the room and do it themselves, and send it out, and not have to have quite as much involvement. And the most recent EIS, I think, did go back a little towards the old, that older model, in the LTEMP one, and that is, the two lead agencies that did the majority of coming up with what, what would be done. Certainly, there is still an open process for the alternative development, and stakeholders were involved, but as far as the actual writing and stuff, most of that was done by BOR [Bureau of Reclamation] or their contractors, which might be fine (laughs). Writing them is a lot of work. [P.H.: oh yeah.] But the tribes were still allowed to write there own sections for the affected environment and stuff. So I think there is that legacy.

00:44:26 Paul Hirt

Let’s talk about change over time a little bit. I’m thinking now, you’ve been personally involved in this for twenty-seven years?

00:46:32 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:46:42

Almost twenty-eight now.

Yeah. More than a quarter of a century.

00:46:44 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:46:46

Most of my life, I think (laughter).

Professional life (laughs).

00:46:49 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:46:49


Can you sort of reflect on the changes that you’ve seen in the program, or the relationships, or the kind of research that’s been done? What kinds of changes over that twenty-seven, twenty-eight years have you seen?

00:46:52 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:47:06

I mean, certainly the biggest is that it’s just become a much bigger program. I mean, when it originally started everyone knew everyone and was probably involved in the research at the very beginning. And yeah, I mean, GCMRC has grown. Now–I go in there now and I don’t recognize very many people, and there are lots of students and interns and that kind of thing that are involved. Um–you know it’s a–I think the fundamental kind of research that’s going on is still pretty much the same. You know, there’s– it’s reached that point where we definitely are cycling back through issues that, in the past, never got completed and still need to be.

Uh-huh. Like, for example?

00:47:58 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:48:04

I was trying to think–some of the things that I saw as the biggest, not changes per se, but things that have not happened. In one of the, I think one of the most interes–well, maybe not interesting, but one of the things that fundamentally shifted between when the EI–the original EIS was started and the Record of Decision, was that it was coming out of the high flows in the 1980s, the mid-eighties. And so one of the driving factors was to not have the dam have unexpected spills. So a lot of emphasis was placed on making sure that you didn’t, essentially, fill it and spill. Because that was one of the most damaging things that people had seen down there, and really triggered a lot of the erosion that people were seeing at archeological sites, and other things. By the time we got to the Record of Decision it was the opposite, we were looking at, well, still not having unplanned spills, but actually having floods, because people realized, I think, that too much stability wasn’t good, either, for that system. There was a lot of debate about having seasonally adjusted steady flows and whether that would be best for fish and those kind of things. Um, so there was a big shift, and now a lot of the experimentation is surrounding having higher-than-normal flows out of the dam. So that is one that kind of shifted. I think–the–what was I trying to think of? I thought of something when I was talking. What other things have changed? Um—you know, for the, certainly for the fish work, we’ve learned an awful lot. We still, still don’t seem to know what, fundamentally, ends up driving the native fish [P.H.: right, populations] populations. You know, early on–water temperature was viewed to be one the big issues. Although at that time, one of the earliest meetings I went to was called the Aquatic Coordination Team, which was the predecessor of all the fish work stuff. And Chuck Minckley said that he thought, actually, the cold water was probably the only thing that potentially saved a lot of the native fish, because it so disadvantaged everything that neither the really cold-water exotics could spread quickly because it was too cold at the dam, and the warm water, which, up until the dam was completed, were actually the dominant fish in the system, catfish and carp and those kinds of things. Essentially it just kind of put a hold on everything. It didn’t benefit any of the fish (laughs). So, water temperature was one of the big issues, and somewhere along the line, trout, rainbow trout, became the big species that was decimating the chub primarily. And–

Predation was the (unintelligible)–

00:51:36 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:51:37

Predation, then maybe competition. So, we shifted to that for a long time, and now I think we’re shifting back. You know, because the tribes–I saw that as one of the areas where the tribes maybe, actually, had a pretty big role in, not necessarily changing perceptions, but stopping some of the management, because the–the idea that you go in and kill a lot of the trout, the tribes didn’t find very tasteful (laughs). Thought that was inappropriate and weren’t necessarily convinced by the science at the time that trout were, in fact, causing the population-level declines. And so I think, now we’re looking more at food base and temperature again, as maybe being with some of the limiting issues are, because the trout have gone up in numbers at the same time as chub have. Now the whole western Canyon is dominated by native fish again, and we’re not quite sure why. We didn’t do anything specifically, other than water temperature.

In the western Canyon? Way downstream?

00:52:50 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:52:51

Western Canyon. Basically below the LCR, at this point. It’s back to being a native fish fishery [P.H.: wow], which is kind of nice to hear. Mostly the–the suckers, but they’re getting wild-spawned chub down there too, that aren’t spawning in the LCR.

What’s the LCR?

00:53:12 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:53:13

The Little Colorado River. [P.H.: Uh-huh.] So, you know, I think that’s an area where there’s definitely been significant knowledge and changes in perception. Um, some of the food-based stuff, I think, has been–we’ve learned a lot lately, and learned what we don’t know.

Fish food, do you mean?

00:53:32 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:53:33

Primarily. Um, an area that, early on, I think there was more work that has now been lost, is the whole terrestrial riparian zone. And that’s an area that Hopi and, I believe, some of the other tribes tend to want more focus on. And for a while we were getting more, there was a lot more work going on in that zone, on both vegetation, the birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, you know, kind of a more ecosystem look at it, and–

Why do you think that’s not getting the attention that it used to and that it ought to?

00:54:09 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:54:14

I think primarily funding. You know again, it’s not a resource that affects a lot of the stakeholders. If it changes one way or another, it doesn’t make much difference to a lot of the stakeholders. It’s also that we don’t know what we want. I mean, prior to the LTEMP EIS, you now one of the big pushes was to develop Desired Future Conditions. And that was to kind of lay out what was agreed to as how we wanted to see things in the future. And most of the resources, there isn’t a lot of guidance or agreement on. Uh, partially because–they’re not used, in a sense. Kind of a Western concept, but, you know, if you don’t use it for something, you really don’t have a management need for it. And so–

It doesn’t become a priority.

00:55:18 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:55:20

Right. And so for a lot of the riparian zone–you know their natural resources, the Park has some desired future for it, but even those are very nebulous. I mean, it’s to maintain natural processes, and support native over non-native. But that’s an artificial zone, essentially, through there, anyway. Pre-dam, most of the riparian zone was sand (laughs). You know, certainly (unintelligible) things. So it’s a new zone. And–

Because since 1963 when the dam gates closed, sediment hasn’t been coming in, so the sand that was there has eroded away, for the most part?

00:55:56 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:56:06

Well, It hasn’t entirely eroded away, but it’s becoming vegetated. Stuff that would have been scoured every spring during the high flows isn’t. And so that zone has allowed lots of things, both native and non-native, to move into it that weren’t there in any numbers pre-dam. Well, you know, the Park didn’t really have any targeted management for that zone beyond some of the recreation stuff. But if it’s a non-na–if it’s non-native, they really don’t want it in there. So that’s a management–

Like tamarisk?

00:56:44 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:56:45

Tamarisk, camelthorn, some of those kinds of species. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of natives that are probably equally, if not more, detrimental to recreation than the non-natives are (laughs). You know, you get the arrowweed thickets down there–potentially, the way the dam is operated, it’s driving that system towards very clonal species. And so, may see an awful lot of arrowweed and phragmites through the corridor, and nothing else. You know, is that good or bad? I don’t know.

And those are two native species, right?

00:57:20 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:57:22

Right. [Talking simultaneously}

But not necessarily desirable. You’re saying.

00:57:22 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:57:25

They may or may not be.

Or natural.

00:57:26 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 00:57:27

Yeah. But no one, that’s a hard thing to decide. It would be one thing if you logging them or something (laughter), or harvesting, and then you go, yeah. And so what’s happened is, you know, for the cultural resources, archaeological sites primarily, there’s a law that kind of tells you what you need to manage for. For the endangered species, we’ve got a law that tells us what we need to manage for. Our Desired Future Conditions are predetermined, so that makes it easy. For, you know, sediment, a lot of its condition is a foundation for other things, so depending what those other things are, then you can kind of back into how much sentiment you might want, or where, those kind of things. And water and power, that’s also driven by a lot of the laws. But vegetation, it’s one of those things where–it’s hard to know what you want down there. Different people want different things. You know, a lot of the discussion in the past has been, are we looking for a pre-dam environment, or some kind of post-dam thing? If it’s post-dam, what’s it driven by? Is it driven by recreation? I mean, right now, in the LTEMP, some of the vegetation management is specifically targeted to try to open up camping area. We, we’re kind of reaching, you know, maybe an equilibrium on how much sand can be stored and where, the stuff that is gone is gone. And with some of the high flows and those kind of things, we may be reaching an equilibrium in places.

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Michael Yeatts 00:59:04

But we’re losing a lot of that area to vegetation now, and the flows are no longer high enough to remove it. During the–pre-original EIS period, you had the high fluctuating flows, and so you actually had a pretty big scour zone, with a lot of sand–just by virtue of having those flows. But the other thing that happened is, when the EIS was started, you still saw a pretty strong signal from those really high flows in the mid-eighties. The 1983 flood sand was still up there and everywhere. A lot of the beaches that are no longer even possible to camp on, I remember as big open sand beaches at the time, just because the vegetation hadn’t encroached. The flows in the eighties were high enough to truly scour things. The first high flow, experimental high flow that we did in ’96 scoured some stuff, but not to the point that it didn’t reestablish within, you know, three to five years. It came back pretty quick. One of the marshes, [unintelligible] marsh, I remember, it was an open sand dune right after the high flow. It was enough to actually devegetate it, more or less, but enough was left that in a few years it was a jungle. Yeah. So, you know, some of that we’re just seeing probably still the successional changes from when the dam was first put in place, and then flows got stabilized back in the early nineties. And where that goes, I don’t know. You know, the other thing that I’ve seen is the removal of a lot of the big willows, because again, when the flows stabilized, I think the beaver population has increased, and those love to topple the trees.

They love chewing on willows.

01:01:05 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:01:06

Yeah. It’s not like they eat them, they just, I think, like to see them fall (laughs). So that’s some more stuff that now is coming back to try and do revegetation work down there, to reestablish some of those. Um–

Do you think the adaptive management process, this commitment to multi-stakeholder, multi-agency, collaborative decision making, is a good institution for trying to figure these things out? Like what Desired Future Conditions do we want? What resources should we prioritize? Is it–on the one hand, some people might say it’s too complex, and messy, and democratic, and inefficient, and other, on the other hand, other people might say, no, we don’t want one agency or one powerful interest to be able to dominate decision-making. We need a level playing field, and we need people to talk to each other and develop relationships. Where do you stand on that process and its ability to actually solve these longer-term, deeper problems about figuring out what it is that we want and how to manage to try to get those things?

01:01:21 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:02:22

I mean, I think it’s one of the better approaches for just avoiding lots of litigation for trying to manage resources. It’s been, I think, a mixed–its success has been mixed in this program and this, from what I understand, is one of the better programs at doing it. And for a number of reasons. As far as developing some of the conditions that are desired–I don’t think adaptive management is necessarily the best way to do that. I think it’s a good way to try to balance some of the issues and, I think, direct research and some of those sort of things. But I think in this situation it’s led to some problems. And I think it’s given, in a way, stakeholders–a belief that they have more power, maybe, than they do. And I say that for a number of different reasons. The–you know, one, one thing is, I’m not sure if we’ve effectively done adaptive management in the way it was kind of originally conceived. This program was beginning right during when adaptive management was kind of still an academic sort of exercise in looking at ways to do that type of management. And so, you know, some of the early meetings we have, what was his name? Kai Lee, I think, is one of the people who’s kind of really–

Right, Kai Lee from the Pacific Northwest.

01:04:29 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:04:31

Right. Proponent on adaptive management–

And Carl Walters.

01:04:33 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:04:34

Carl Walters coming in and giving talks.

We interviewed him last month.

01:04:35 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:04:37

Yeah. And so one of the things that happened is when the Record of Decision occurred and we put a series of changes into effect, it was not clear what the scope of the adaptive management was to operate on. Some people, you know, in a traditional EIS you come out with some, something you’re going to do, and then you go ahead and do it. The flows that were put in place, I think, were viewed as being pretty conservative. And so the question then became, is, with the monitoring and research, was that to guide whether the flow, other parameters, could be expanded? Or was that the limiting box, and adaptive management only tweaked things inside it? [P.H.: Inside the box.] And that, I don’t think, was ever agreed upon. I mean, my thought, initially, was adaptive management was to change the size of the box as we learned. Because we had taken a pretty conservative approach to the flows and the restrictions, and it might be that we could expand them or do different things as we learned more. A lot of people said, “No, the box is the box. You can do whatever you want within it, but to go outside of that required a new EIS.” And so, you know, in that sense, it wasn’t clear whether tweaking things within the box is adaptive management or not. Certainly, it was adaptively managing the research that was going on, those kind of things, and as new things, inputs to the system, came in, we changed the kind of research, what needed done. So I think it’s, it was, the collaborative approach was certainly the best way to try to manage that kind of thing, look at priorities, look at those sort of things. But as far as the actual management, I don’t know whether that’s best. And then to get back to the broader question of, is it the way to manage the system? One of the things, when we started, was the Park really didn’t have a good general management plan for what they wanted as land manager for many of the resources down there. And so that gave the stakeholders, I think, this perception that they could develop a lot of these resource goals instead of the Park [P.H.: ah-hah, ah-hah], which has led to some issues, too.

Park Service probably felt that was stepping on their toes.

01:07:23 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:07:26

Yeah. And so–but because a lot of these resources didn’t have anything explicit, that’s where we got into the DFCs and all that kind of stuff. Had there been very explicit–


01:07:37 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:07:38

Desired Future Conditions.

Oh, got you, thanks.

01:07:39 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:07:41

So, had the Park had really explicit conditions that they were managing for, for all these resources, I think it would have limited some of that more management–I guess, feeling that the stakeholders felt they should be able to do. It would have been driven by more of “This is what’s there, are we meeting it?” You know, you look at the hydropower, I mean, people aren’t getting in there and saying, “No, WAPA [Western Area Power Administration] should change their contracting this way to do contracts” and, you know, those kind of things. [P.H.: Right.] They’re not telling the Fish and Wildlife what they should be writing for their biological opinion. But they are saying what a lot of the Park resources should be. So, you know, in that sense, I don’t think adaptive management is the best way to manage for an individual agency’s thing. I think they need to take the lead in what those priorities are, and then use the adaptive management to look at how that’s being achieved, ways of better meeting those goals.

Hm. Interesting.

01:08:53 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:08:55

So I think it’s a mixed thing. Yeah. I mean, it’s one thing if it’s true co-management, you know, and the tribes, that’s one of the things the tribes have been arguing for, because [P.H.: Right] the Western management goals and tribal, for the same resources, are so often disparate about how they approach it. The–without a true co-management sort of approach, one side or the other is the one that makes the decision, and so the other side feels they’re being shorted on it, if it’s a different decision. You know, it’s a power, a power issue.


01:09:31 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:09:31


Right. What–reflect a little bit on the power dynamics in the adaptive management program in the twenty-eight years that you were involved. Who have been the more powerful, influential players and why, and what–what’s the outcome of that?

01:09:32 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:09:53

Well certainly, I mean, the Bureau of Reclamation is obviously the principal driver.


01:10:01 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:10:03

They operate the dam. It’s their program. Most of the com– no, again, so much of the program is driven by the compliance needs of the Bureau of Reclamation for endangered species and, to a lesser extent, cultural resources. Those are the first things that tend to get met through the science. That’s what needs to be done. And, is the–essentially the coordinating agency for everything. They can sort of lead by developing agendas and those kind of things. You know, certainly, during the original EIS, you found out pretty quickly that whoever got whatever language down first on paper for everyone to comment on, the first straw man, that tends to direct kind of where you go.

Set the agenda.

01:10:54 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:10:55

And the Bureau of Reclamation, I mean, you know, it’s, it is their program in a large sense, so it makes sense that they would drive things. You know, power, I think–is one of the stronger stakeholders. But I think, by and large, all the stakeholders have been pretty well incorporated into the process. They don’t always get their way, certainly, but I think they’ve all been heard. The environmental groups were always at the table and I think they were the first ones who felt that their needs weren’t being met when Grand Canyon Trust pulled out and had a lawsuit.

When was that?

01:11:44 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:11:45

Must have been in the late nineties? Trying to remember.

So after the Record of Decision.

01:11:49 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:11:51


And they had been involved throughout the environmental studies period?

01:11:52 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:11:56


And through the EIS [M.Y.: Right] and the ROD, and then they pulled out a few years later?

01:11:57 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:12:02

Yeah. They–they felt that it was probably not appropriate for them to be involved in litigation and sitting on the committee, you know, so. But–

They decided they might get more of what they wanted through an adversarial relationship [M.Y.: Right], than participating as a collaborative.

01:12:20 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:12:28

Yeah. Yeah. I guess they felt that their collaboration wasn’t getting to where they wanted it to be. Um–

We’re going to try to do an interview with somebody from Grand Canyon Trust [M.Y.: Oh good] to get that perspective.

01:12:35 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:12:39

Yeah. Rick Johnson would be a good one.


01:12:40 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:12:41

Or Nikolai.

Or who?

01:12:43 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:12:44

Nikolai–what’s his name? Give me a second, he was Nikolai Lash, but–he changed his name. Ramsey. Or maybe it went from Ramsey to Lash [correct name is Nikolai Lash], but either of them, Rick Johnson or–

Yeah, Rick’s on my list.

01:13:01 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:13:03

Okay. Other, I think one of the groups that has been–surprisingly powerful behind the scenes, in a way, and possibly because it’s sort of a coalition is the, the fishing, recreational fishery. You know, they tend to be pretty vocal. They get their position out. But it’s been one of those–and Arizona Game and Fish obviously [P.H.: an ally] is very supportive, [P.H.: sure] and allied, of the trout fishery, but it’s been one of those, from a logical standpoint, that just never make sense. You know, in one sense trout are being blamed as the bane to the humpback chub, and yet there’s no way they’ll get rid of the trout fishery up there. You know, it’s just one of those things where if, on the face, if you look at it, it’s like, why are you trying to maintain a trout fishery at one part of the river? There’s no barriers between that part and the part with the endangered fish that’s being managed almost diametrically opposed. And so it’s just like, you know, and it’s an artificial fishery, they’re non-native fish. It was put there as a trout fishery, as a management choice. Through most of the Grand Canyon, they’re trying to remove trout and non-native fish, but yet we have this one place where we’re going to insist that they remain. [P.H.: Sure.] And everyone in–involved in, whether it’s Fish and Wildlife, Game and Fish, or the trout fishermen, you know, it’s like, yes, this is a given, this is going to be here. And it’s just one of those weird situations where it’s a little schizophrenic looking, but everyone kind of lives with it. (Laughter) But clearly there’s some power somewhere in there.

Have you seen shifts in–you know, a number of people like you have talked about how some of the stakeholders ally together. When we interviewed Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, he was talking about a tribal caucus, how the tribes, representatives often meet the day before AMWG meets and sort of go over the issues [M.Y.: Right]. What other interest groups–you just mentioned one, the commercial and recreation, recreational fishery, not commercial fishery–what other sort of caucuses have developed and how has their participation changed over time, or relationships between caucuses changed over time, in your mind?

01:15:07 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:15:48

Um, well certainly, I mean there’s some longstanding, I guess, informal groups that tend to ally together. You know, certainly (pause) Park Service, tribes, environmental groups tended to come in sort of in the same, the–whitewater rafting, those are all kind of allied together. Generally, the Basin states were together and often with the power interests. Um, you know when—[this is] a little tangent, but one of the things that I think has been successful in this program and (pause) I think, allowed people to try to do things cooperatively, is it’s always been somewhat of a consensus program. And so–as we were moving along, it got more and more into kind of a caucus kind of situation because of voting. Um, decisions were being done by voting. And so, it became trying to line up people on your side of issues so you had the votes, rather than to try to come to an agreement on an issue and compromise. And (pause) we got going down that path of voting, and that’s when the Department of Interior agencies kind of pulled out and said, no, we shouldn’t be voting members if we’re doing–going down that road. And luckily, with the Anne Castle era, we went back to doing things by consensus if at all possible. And so it got rid of that need to caucus and get groups together and form coalitions to try to out-vote the other side, which I think has been really beneficial. Because I think it has allowed the groups to be–to, essentially, not stake out territory and not give on it. And allowed people to, you know, as the voting thing went, it’s like, “Well, if we’re not going to win, why even go to the meeting?” (laughs). That kind of perception. Um, the other kind of caucusing, which isn’t really caucusing, but the–before, like, the AMWG meetings, the DOI has their own meetings. So that again, they were trying to get all the DOI agencies sort of on the same page with–

DOI, Department of Interior?

01:18:43 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:18:45

Department of Interior. Because again, one of the things I thought it was always nice to see, that Department of Interior wasn’t so keen on it apparently (laughs), was often different Department of Interior agencies didn’t see things eye to eye, and I always enjoyed the discussions to see why they didn’t agree on things. You know, Fish and Wildlife might–may or may not see things the same way as the Park Service, who almost definitely didn’t see things the way Bureau of Reclamation did. But those discussions, I thought were always interesting. But I guess they decided it wasn’t appropriate to air the dirty laundry 9laughter) in a public forum. So the Department of Interior started having meetings before AMWG to make sure they were kind of all on the same page. And since they weren’t voting, it didn’t matter. During the era of voting, you could have, again, Park Service, Fish and Wildlife might get together with the tribes as a group, whereas Bureau of Reclamation might go with Western Area Power or something as a group, and so they’d be voting against each other, which was always kind of weird. But–

When–what were the dates in which you feel it was more based on consensus, and then what was the date range in which it went to caucuses and voting and blocs, and then–

01:20:01 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:20:14

It–I don’t know if there were any dates for it actually to–there was always a voting ability during TWG and AMWG, um–but it seemed like it got more and more formal, probably during the early 2000s. I don’t know, it just kind of slowly crept in, until it got to the point where all of a sudden the vote became more important than the issue, in a sense. Um, and–I don’t remember the exact date is, when Anne Castle was the Secretary’s designee, that we really formally tried to go back to consensus, you know, and I’m sure that Mary Orton probably has the exact date when that got passed, but the operating procedures, I think, tried to make it a consensus process, which I think is good. And again, you know, this is an advisory committee, so–

Right. Ultimately–

01:21:21 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:21:22

What was happening–

It just makes recommendations to the Secretary of Interior. Right?

01:21:23 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:21:26

Yeah. And so what was happening is you would end up with a split vote, so you would have the majority, and then you would have a minority report also written. So it just, in a way, didn’t make sense, because the same discussions were contained within the record anyway. And at least with Anne Castle, she was very involved in the process, took a large interest in it, and so she could report those discussions back to the Secretary, too. And so everyone was being heard anyway. You know, and it, it may be when that voting process was getting more and more formal, that may have been when Grand Canyon Trust pulled out too because–you know, if you end up on the losing side of the vote too long, it makes sense, rather than writing a minority position, just have your lawyer write that position instead (laughter). So–but yeah, I think going back to consensus makes it much more collegial. I think we can talk the issues out a lot better than when it didn’t matter, you just lined up your votes and went for it.

Interesting. Any particular events that happened during your time involved that you thought were, sort of, marked a significant change in the way people approach things, or the issues that were addressed?

01:22:39 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:22:58

Um, well I think, certainly, the shift to decide we needed to do high flows was–you know, it wasn’t a huge change in, I think, the thought process, but I think just, as far as actual, an adaptive management sort of thing, that was really the first kind of big experiment, in, in that we’re going to go outside of the normal operations of the dam and do something specific, have a lot of science and monitoring to understand if it was doing what we thought it might be doing and to track the outcome of it. You know, there were some other experiments similar to that (coughs), the low steady flows and some of those, to address some of the other earlier questions about what might be best for the native fish.

Were those experiments implemented or just talked about?

01:23:58 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:24:01

No, they were implemented. Is it the low–

Seasonally adjusted low steady flow or something?

01:24:06 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:24:08

I’m trying to remember what they’re called, LSSF–low steady–low seasonal steady flow? Anyway, something, I don’t know (laughs). [Correct term is Low Summer Steady Flows.] Too many acronyms. I can’t keep up with all of them. Um–what other things? I mean, a lot of things tended to be somewhat incremental [P.H.: uh-huh], which is probably good in an adaptive management program.


01:24:35 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:24:36

You know, I think, certainly (pause) the recognition that there is an awful lot of outside influences too, to do the whole thing as just a formal experiment. Which again, I think is looking at some of the adaptive management, it’s recognizing you can’t control all the–all the inputs to the experiment. That some stuff you just have to, it’s an ongoing experiment, and you’ve just got to monitor it. Um, I think probably one of the (pause) biggest changes is just the shift that we’re seeing to a native fishery down there and, unfortunately, not knowing 100 percent why that’s happening. You know, I think that’s something that’s going to be a focus probably in the next ten years or so. The other thing that I think is kind of an interesting unknown is why we still have a native fishery at all, because in most other places where you have as big of sources of non-natives all around the system, you know, they immediately get replaced. The non-natives take over fast. When this program was kind of early on, the Yampa River was a primarily a native fish river, and it just went overnight. I mean it’s now non-native, and it happened fast. Why the LCR persists as a refugia, in a sense, for humpback chub and hasn’t been invaded, given that it’s warm water, there’s bass around, there’s other warm water non-natives, but they’ve just never gotten a foothold. The same with most of the river. There’s been lots of other non-natives in there, but they’ve just never completely replaced native species. So that’s one of those big questions, I think, and certainly it’s a focus of concern for going into the future. That’s why the Park’s doing a non-native aquatic species EA [Environmental Assessment], is to figure out what to do when something shows up that is going to spread rapidly.

Yeah. That reminds me that one of the reasons that people like Carl Walters and Kai Lee came up with the science of adaptive management is, um, the recognition of uncertainty. And climate change is another one of those things that we’re–we know it’s happening, but we’re uncertain about what the effects, exactly the effects are going to be, and that recognition of the tremendous uncertainty of ecological responses to, you know, to a dam or to climate change is the rationale for coming up with this idea of adaptive management. Do you think–how do you think the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program has done in recognizing, embracing and dealing with uncertainty?

01:27:01 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:27:57

Um–I think it certainly recognizes it, and you know it’s, I think a lot of the science, either explicitly or implicitly, recognizes it, it’s there. But I think we still try to address the system (pause) too much in, I guess, a traditional Western scientific approach. And it’s, you know, I think one of the–it’s probably a human nature issue, but the scientists working on things want to address research that they actually live to see the end of and can write up. And so even though, you know, some of the stuff, hopefully it will be long term and maybe we can’t answer it for twenty years, a lot of the research still has to be two-to-five-year sort of time frames. And this is an area that, I think, the tribes–the tribal involvement, I think, has been one of the–they’ve been incorporated and involved better than in a lot of programs. But on the other hand, I think they fundamentally look at the system in a way that would be helpful for the Western scientists to look at it. And it’s getting, again, into that uncertainty sort of area. I mean, the tribes have the time depth that their traditional knowledge has seen climate change. How it’s recorded, how well it’s recorded in oral history or other tribal knowledge, is hard to say, and the integration of that into Western science is poor. Not just here but anywhere. It’s not something that’s easy to do. But it also, I think, kind of underpins the tribal view of a more hands-off approach, because they’re looking at that long time depth and things change. We can’t foresee everything that’s going to happen–

Can’t control.

01:30:25 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:30:26

And can’t control it. And so, going back to, like, the rainbow trout, the tribes basically said, “You know, you shouldn’t be going in there and trying to kill them all off. It’s not their fault they’re there, you put them there, they’re a living entity in the system. Furthermore, they seem to be coexisting with the chub. They may be somewhat limiting, but they haven’t wiped them out. And it’s better to let nature do what nature does,” which, in a sense, you know, I think is them recognizing that people can’t control everything. And I think that is born of that really long time depth, in a very environmentally changeable area. I mean, yeah, in the last hundred years it’s not done a lot of things, but in the last two thousand years, it has. We had the whole drought in the twelve thousands–or 1200s, and stuff. You know, so, some of that, I think, just gets into their overall philosophy of land management. And so, I think, they view the more active management that Western land managers want to do as being too much. And so that’s kind of a roundabout way of saying that the uncertainty, I think, we try to control more of it than we actually can, and especially when we get into decadal time periods or longer, and certainly climate change is operating over that. You know, you look at the changes in what’s going on in the riparian system. We may still be just seeing the ripple effect from the fact there’s a dam there, not by the daily changes in what the operations are. You know, it may be fifty, sixty years before you get some kind of equilibrium of what that downstream riparian habitat looks like with a dam upstream. You know, and so there is some of that, I think, that the traditional tribal knowledge could be used for adaptive management to recognize what the limitations are.

Let’s, uh–I’d like to get some advice from you of additional people that you think we ought to consider interviewing. You mentioned Rick Johnson with the Grand Canyon Trust, but who else? [M.Y.: Um–] I want to make sure nobody falls through the cracks who would be really important.

01:32:41 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:32:59

You know, I’m sure Ted Melis has been–

He’s been mentioned.

01:33:02 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:33:03

–mentioned, because he was involved a lot, early. You’ve probably talked to Dave Garrett and some of those people. I’m trying to think, whether some of the other, other directors at GCMRC. Um–

Jack Schmidt, we talked to.

01:33:21 Paul Hirt
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Michael Yeatts 01:33:22

Jack Schmidt. Yeah, he was in town yesterday, two days ago. [P.H.: Yeah?] Um, who else? Oh–Clayton Palmer, you probably have on your list.

I’m not sure who is he.

01:33:39 Paul Hirt
Garrett, Dave Profile Photo
Dave Garrett 01:33:41

He’s with Western Area Power.

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Michael "Mike" Yeatts

Flagstaff, Arizona


Interview conducted by: Dr. Paul Hirt, Arizona State University and Jennifer Sweeney, Four East Historical Research, LLC. Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program Administrative History Project. Administered by Arizona State University Supported by a grant from the US Bureau of Reclamation.


Michael "Mike" Yeatts has been involved with adaptive management in the Grand Canyon since 1991, when he started working in the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. Yeatts represented the Hopi Tribe during Glen Canyon Environmental Studies (GCES). He was part of the Writing Team for the 1995 EIS on Glen Canyon Dam Operations, ensuring that the perspectives of the Hopi Tribe were incorporated into the final document. Yeatts was the Hopi representative in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP), acting as both Technical Work Group (TWG) representative and Adaptive Management Work Group (AMWG) alternate.

Yeatts, Mike Oral History Interview Transcript 9-08-2018

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Yeatts, Mike Oral History Interview 9-08-2018

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Yeatts, Michael. ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW. Transcript of recorded Interview conducted by Paul Hirt, Arizona State University, and Jennifer Sweeney, Four East Historical Research, LLC, on 8 Sept 2018, at Flagstaff, Arizona. Edited by Paul Hirt and Jennifer Sweeney.
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