Bladow on Wölfle Hazard, 'Underflows: Queer Trans Ecologies and River Justice'

Cleo Wölfle Hazard
Kyle Bladow

Cleo Wölfle Hazard. Underflows: Queer Trans Ecologies and River Justice. Feminist Technosciences Series. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2022. 312 pp. $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-295-74974-7; $30.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-295-74975-4

Reviewed by Kyle Bladow (Northland College) Published on H-Environment (November, 2022) Commissioned by Daniella McCahey (Texas Tech University)

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Underflows offers an inspiring application of science and technology studies, queer theory, and Indigenous studies that examines and intervenes on river management and recovery. Cleo Wölfle Hazard draws from this range of critical theory as well as his training and fieldwork in river sciences to address ethical and affective dimensions of pursuing justice for rivers. Throughout, he employs riverine metaphors that cleverly convey his original ideas (most prominently, the subsurface hyporheic zone of rivers acknowledged in the title). Considering “queer trans feminist ecology” as “an unfolding praxis, mood, and orientation to solidarity and multiplicity that holds space for different kinds of thought,” Wölfle Hazard suggests how it can promote alternatives to hegemonic settler-colonial river projects, enabling us to “join together in the subsurface and latencies of Manifest Destiny projects to overturn their methods and logics” (p. 14).

Each of the book’s five main chapters addresses a different facet of what queer trans feminist ecology might do, interspersed with lively “underflow” vignettes that playfully supplement the academic monograph format. Chapter 1 grounds the introduction’s theoretical framing with a consideration of two places and communities in California: Salmon Creek and Scott Valley. Wölfle Hazard advances the concepts “multispecies commons” and “hyporheic connectivity” to figure how the imaginaries of landowners, agencies, organizations, and Native communities affect their local hydrology. These concepts—developed with insights from Karen Barad’s “apparatus” and Glen Coulthard and Leanne Simpson’s “grounded normativity,” among others—illuminate how these constituents challenge settler-aligned policies of water management, such as the division between surface and subsurface water governance.

Chapter 2 returns to theoretical considerations to delineate further queer trans feminist ecology and the ways it informs and is displayed in fieldwork. Taking inspiration from José Esteban Muñoz and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Wölfle Hazard considers embodied experiences at sites of ecological knowledge production (e.g., the field, the academic conference) to articulate how such an ecology emerges as a practice, including through performative projects that challenge hegemonic assumptions about what constitutes valuable scientific work. Astutely, Wölfle Hazard does not aim to declare what exactly such an ecology should look like, committed instead to figuring such an ecology as undisciplined and unable to be wholly assimilated by academia. He again takes a clue from waterways themselves: “If a beaver-shaped meadow ... is more productive of fish and other aquatic creatures than an engineered river, is the same true of an undisciplined mode of thought?” (p. 99). The balance in this chapter (and throughout the book) between theory and praxis is commendable. Without losing track of critiques of settler scholarship for its potential to assimilate or elide the very non-Western knowledges it purports to amplify, Underflows remains careful in its writing and citational practices. Wölfle Hazard further models a generous openness, inviting readers to consider how their work could align with queer trans feminist ecology.

Chapter 3 delightfully imagines beavers as queer agents. Following the lead of beavers as they contribute to vibrant river ecologies, Wölfle Hazard uses trans scholarship on embodiment to consider watershed bodies and possibilities for transformation. The chapter rejects engineering projects that have figured beavers as nuisance species. It notes how many Indigenous river workers demonstrate in their projects and policies an abiding “respect for other-than-human beings and their world making” (p. 134). Meanwhile, settler river workers can better learn, through encounters with and renewed appreciation for beavers, “a different role for human river workers than that of the Anthropocene river engineer who yearns only to control water and messy ecological dynamics” (p. 135). The chapter celebrates how queer trans ethics of care can defy boundaries constraining the possibilities for watersheds and the lives they support to thrive.

As counterbalance to the joyful engagements of multispecies actions on watersheds, chapter 4 turns to consider grief and its expression in science projects amid accelerated biodiversity loss and species extinction, which Wölfle Hazard acutely describes in sharing his long-term study of salmon survival in central California’s Salmon Creek. Expressions and performances of grief offer examples for how such affects can be better acknowledged in scientific presentations and knowledge sharing, even complementing them. Wölfle Hazard worries that deference to supposed objectivity means “we lose some capacity to feel, to grieve, and to take political action from that grief” (p. 154). By affirming the emotional dimensions of ecological work, in everything from multidisciplinary projects to replacing “affectless terms like species loss and biodiversity with death of beloved kin,” we might better process this loss and be better equipped to advocate for multispecies relatives (p. 155).

Further exemplifying how scientific research might benefit by engaging affect and by drawing on other disciplines, chapter 5 shares examples of ecopoetic engagements with the Duwamish River undertaken by Wölfle Hazard along with July Hazard and students. These opportunities furnish ways to reimagine river restoration initiatives with a clearer emphasis on environmental justice. In the process of enacting queer ecologies, Wölfle Hazard draws on Muñoz’s writing, especially his concept of the “brown commons”: “without conflating the brownness of racial formations ... with the brownness of industrial afterlives ... I explore both these valences of brown as animating what waterfronts do” (p. 179). Insights from Muñoz help imagine working for the river in a process of grounded relationality between settler and Indigenous nations as it “churns up the placid stagnation of white and bureaucratic processes that govern Superfund cleanup and ‘neighborhood revitalization’ along the Duwamish” (p. 180). In further testament to the engaging writing style, Wölfle Hazard also creatively redeploys Muñoz’s work, imagining him reading his work not at an academic conference but instead in the middle of a bureaucratic meeting on river management.

The book’s epilogue, “Upwelling,” offers final examples of collaborative work between queer trans feminist ecologists and Indigenous nations, while also making a final call for the value of multidisciplinary research: “Most academic and settler scientists see art and the humanities as tools for communicating science, rather than as methods for transfiguring scientific thought. This may be changing, however” (p. 211). The epilogue considers queer ecological practices in solidarity with Karuk cultural practitioners on the Klamath River, aiming to promote Karuk governance and river justice.

In insightful, inviting, and compelling ways, Underflows brings attention to possibilities beneath and beyond the surface flows of straight/settler science. Wölfle Hazard rightly points out that “most environmental scientists and managers don’t know this work” (p. 16); hopefully, scholarship like Underflows and the projects described in it will help amend that. Pertinent for anyone who finds a home in environmental sciences or environmental humanities, the book is bound to have special appeal to those who are not content to rest within imposed boundaries. The summer 2022 fish kill resulting from the McKinney Fire underscores the urgent need for continued attention to the Klamath River, one of the book’s main sites; simultaneously, climate change’s intensifying impacts on all rivers and watersheds further suggests that innovative, collaborative approaches like Wölfle Hazard’s, particularly where they support and align with Indigenous-led stewardship and maintenance, are more crucial than ever.

Citation: Kyle Bladow. Review of Wölfle Hazard, Cleo, Underflows: Queer Trans Ecologies and River Justice. H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. November, 2022. URL:

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