Resilience, Adaptation, and Transformation in the Klamath River Basin Socio-Ecological System

37 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2014 Last revised: 28 Apr 2015

See all articles by Brian Chaffin

Brian Chaffin

University of Montana

Robin Kundis Craig

University of Kansas

Hannah Gosnell

Oregon State University

Date Written: February 1, 2015


The Klamath River Basin straddles northern California and southern Oregon and has been the locus of a century-long struggle for multivalent resilience — resilience of the resident tribes in the face of settlement by Europeans and others, resilience of those immigrant settlers pursuing agriculture in a water-limited environment, and resilience of the native ecosystems and fish in the face of severe hydrologic fragmentation via multiple dams and irrigation infrastructure resulting in severely reduced access to and changes in habitat. Recently, however, the communities of the Klamath Basin have worked together in an effort to transform the basin’s governance in order to promote greater resilience across all these valences.

This Article uses the four-phase adaptive cycle model that Lance Gunderson and C.S. Holling described in 2002 to trace the history of the Klamath Basin social-ecological system (“SES”) through periods characterized by vulnerability, resilience, and transformation. We conclude that while Klamath Basin stakeholders have worked out a compromise settlement that may signify the emergence of a new, more resilient regime, the Basin’s future is uncertain. We identify important thresholds that, if triggered, could move the SES into alternate regimes, and we consider whether formalization of emergent institutions through legislation might influence its trajectory.

Keywords: Klamath River, socio-ecological system, SES, resilience assessment, ESA, endangered species, stream adjudication, resilience, adaptation, adaptive governance

Suggested Citation

Chaffin, Brian and Craig, Robin Kundis and Gosnell, Hannah, Resilience, Adaptation, and Transformation in the Klamath River Basin Socio-Ecological System (February 1, 2015). 51 Idaho Law Review 157-193 (2014) (appeared in print 2015) (peer reviewed), Available at SSRN:

Brian Chaffin

University of Montana ( email )

32 Campus Drive
Missoula, MT 598012
United States
4062436575 (Phone)


Robin Kundis Craig (Contact Author)

University of Kansas ( email )

School of Law
1535 W. 15th St.
Lawrence, KS 66045
United States

Hannah Gosnell

Oregon State University ( email )

Bexell Hall 200
Corvallis, OR 97331
United States

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