Nelson Institute welcomes Grace Bulltail, assistant professor of Native American Environment, Health, and Community

November 4, 2019

Understanding the intersection of watershed management and tribal sovereignty is among the top research goals of Grace Bulltail, the newly named Nelson Institute Assistant Professor of Native American Environment, Health, and Community. A member of the Crow Tribe and a descendant of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Tribes of Fort Berthold, North Dakota Bulltail

has spent much of her career studying the impact of oil and gas extraction on water quality and watershed management. A professional engineer and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) board member, Bulltail received a bachelor of science in civil & environmental engineering from Stanford University and a doctorate from the department of biological & environmental engineering in the College of Agricultural & Life Science at Cornell.

During Bulltail’s doctoral work at Cornell, she researched the ways in which natural resource development in multi-jurisdictional watersheds throughout Montana, Wyoming, and Crow tribal lands impacted water quality. Following her graduation from Cornell, Bulltail continued her water quality research, becoming a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in the Department of Earth System Science, where she investigated the water quality impacts of oil and gas development on tribal lands. In her new role at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bulltail hopes to continue researching water policy while focusing on transboundary watersheds and the land tenure challenges present in Wisconsin.

“Moving forward, I really want to look at land use and how water management is tied to land use,” Bulltail said.

Specifically, Bulltail said she is interested in addressing gaps in how tribal waterways are inventoried by the state and how this impacts regulations around tribal waters. In particular, Bulltail said that most tribal waterways are not inventoried or listed in state surveys so the Environmental Protection Agency is not in a position to put any regulations on waterways that have not been inventoried. Instead, tribal leaders can elect to set their own water quality standards or list the water as impaired. Bulltail hopes to better understand how tribes are managing these options and how land tenure impacts these decisions.

“Land tenure is a huge problem for tribal communities,” Bulltail said. “I want to look at these challenges as well as how agriculture is impacting water management.”

As a part of these research efforts and appointment within the interdisciplinary Nelson Institute, Bulltail will also be working with American Indian Studies and the Department of Biological Systems Engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Bulltail is also hoping to connect with others across campus to continually improve graduate education research.   

Bulltail said, “I’m looking forward to learning more about the issues specific to this region and being a part of a campus with a strong agriculture focus.”  

Photo courtesy of Grace Bulltail