Skip to main content

Desert Studies Institute

The Desert Studies Institute (DSI) was established in 1997 as a cooperative program between the Department of Anthropology at Boise State University and Celebration Park, which is operated by Canyon County Parks, Recreation, and Waterways. Each year, the Desert Studies Institute provides a broad range of academic offerings of interest and value to students, teaching professionals, Idaho’s citizens, and visitors.

The mission of the Institute is to provide educational programs and scholarly presentations concerning the prehistory, history, ecology, and politics of Idaho’s desert environments and deserts worldwide. The programs are presented to enrich the understanding and appreciation of complex desert ecosystems in Idaho and to promote their perpetual preservation as educational resources for the future.


The faculty of the Desert Studies Institute is selected on the basis of their expertise in areas relating to the objectives of the DSI. Faculty from Boise State University and the region forms the core of the instructional faculty. The institute regularly arranges for the participation of distinguished scholars from other institutions.


All workshops are one credit each unless otherwise indicated, and are available for undergraduate or graduate credit, plus a small workshop fee. All workshops are listed under anthropology; most are cross-listed with other disciplines. For detailed information, or for registration information call Boise State Summer Programs/Extended Studies at (208) 426-1709.

Desert Studies Institute Workshops Summer 2023

The long-billed Curlew: Tracking a Species of Greatest Conservation Need
May 26 & 27, Heather Hayes

This 2-part workshop focusing on Long-billed Curlews invites participants to join a research biologist for a PowerPoint discussion and a morning out in the field to gain experiential knowledge of what it means to be a curlew on public lands. Required reading material will be provided before the workshop to introduce the species, the current issues facing the southwest Idaho population, and what studies are being conducted to learn more about the dramatic localized decline. The field trip portion will be conducted on the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of Boise. We will locate curlews during the morning to observe them exhibiting territorial flight displays, establishing and defending territories, as well as courtship displays that may have started since their arrival back to their breeding grounds. Field Trip. Crosslisted with Anthropology, Biological Sciences, and Environmental Studies. 1 credit

Desert Ecology
June 1 & 2, Nicki Schwend and Laura Barbour

Desert Ecology is a two-day workshop combining guided interpretive hikes, short lectures, and introductory field research and data collection. The course explores the ecology of one of our region’s most striking arid landscapes—the Snake River Canyon. Participants will learn about how native plants and animals, as well as human cultures, have adapted to contend with the challenges of desert environments. While investigating the present-day ecology of local landscapes, students will also learn about their geologic history—how they were shaped by everything from catastrophic floods, ancient lakes, and volcanic activity. We will learn how the flora and fauna of this landscapes have continued to develop since the end of the last Ice Age, and we will examine human history in this area over that same time span.. The workshop will be held at Celebration Park.
Field Trip. Crosslisted with Anthropology, Biological Sciences, and Environmental Studies. 1 credit

Ethnobotany: Introduction to Edible, Medicinal, and Useful Plants
June 5 & 6, Ray Vizgirdas

Our cultural history is intimately tied to our environment. This workshop focuses primarily on plants used by Native Americans as food, medicine, clothing, and building materials. Classroom and field activities bring together aspects of the natural and cultural history of our region in emphasizing native plant identification, ecology, and ethnobotany.
Field Trip. Crosslisted with Anthropology, Biological Sciences, and Environmental Studies. 1 credit

Knowing Fish
June 8 & 9, Chris Walser

Knowing Fish is a two-day workshop focusing on the identification, ecology, and conservation of fishes in the Boise River watershed.  The workshop combines lecture, group discussion, laboratory work, and field study.  Field study will involve collecting fishes using standard research protocols from a variety of riverine habitats.  Participants must be in good physical condition and comfortable walking in flowing water. Field Trip. Crosslisted with Anthropology, Biological Sciences, and Environmental Studies. 1 credit

The Way West through Southern Idaho
June 10 & 11, Jerry Jerrems

This workshop will review the history of emigration associated with the Oregon Trail in southern Idaho, placing an emphasis upon its role in leading to environmental degradation along the trail corridor.  A field trip is included.  Goals include an alternative perspective of the Oregon Trail as the relationship of the emigrants and Native Americans have been chronicled in the historic record and a clearer perspective of the archaeological evidence of the trail itself as observed in the field.   The content of this workshop includes a Powerpoint lecture to include an informative video on Saturday.  On Sunday a field trip will be conducted to Three Island Crossing, Bonneville Point, and an interpretive station on Hwy 21 just before the highway crosses the Boise River.  Time permitting, we will visit a site location on Columbia flats where multiple deep trail remnants are highly visible. At Three Island Crossing, we will visit the Oregon Trail interpretive museum.
Field Trip. Cross-listed with Anthropology, Environmental Studies, and History. 1 credit.

Ancient Peoples of Southern Idaho
June 14 & 15, Mark Plew and Nicki Schwend

This workshop reviews the prehistory of Southern Idaho from its earliest beginnings some 16,000 years ago to peoples at the time of European contact. The first day of this workshop will consist of on-campus PowerPoint lectures and demonstrations. The second day will meet at Celebration Park–Idaho’s only archaeological park where additional presentations will be presented prior to visits to and discussions of the park’s archaeological sites.
Field Trip. Cross-listed with Anthropology, Environmental Studies, and History. 1 credit.

Death of an Ecosystem
June 25 & 26, Eric Yensen

This workshop will focus on important ecological interactions in northern Great Basin ecosystems. Learn about the ecological roles of sagebrush, grasshoppers, ground squirrels, badgers, raptors, coyotes, and many others; how they interact to form a functional ecosystem; and how human activities are causing the collapse of this ecosystem.
Cross-listed with Anthropology, Biological Sciences, Environmental Studies, and Geosciences. 1 credit.