Hailing from a dryland ecosystem, Dakota’s interest in rivers stem from the lack of regular access he had to them. On his regular trips to the Sierra Nevada mountains, he would become captivated by the size and scope of mountain rivers such as the Merced and Tuolumne, dwarfing any small creek he had access to back home. During his undergraduate senior year, he wrote an original research thesis about the effects of suspended woody debris on salmonid spawning habitat using traditional geomorphic assessment techniques. Upon realizing how edifying the work was, this led to him making the decision to apply for graduate school and go even deeper into the field of fluvial geomorphology and restoration.
Dakota attended graduate school at the University of Oregon where he worked in the River Research Group within the Geography department. While there, he worked to collect monitoring data on the Middle Fork John Day River for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) intensely monitored watershed program. For his thesis topic, he focused on using remote sensing techniques to quantitatively assess fluvial geomorphic responses to invasive species removal on the Virgin River. His experience using both traditional, on-the-ground geomorphic techniques and cutting-edge remote sensing analysis fostered skills that allow him to aid in finding solutions to practical problems that the restoration field faces.