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Medium access control for a distributed cooperative wireless sensor network is examined. Using a quality-of-service approach, the sensor node traffic (control and data packets) within these cooperative networks is characterized. A novel medium access control mechanism, cooperative wireless sensor medium access control (CWS-MAC), is proposed to meet the requirements of the control and data traffic classes. CWS-MAC couples a high throughput TDMA scheme with a unique cross-layer, flow-based priority mechanism that is enforced across nodes. Design parameters for CWS-MAC are investigated and an implementation strategy is presented. Performance analysis of CWS-MAC is provided for the control packet mean delay as well as control and data packet throughput. Simulation results are provided to demonstrate that CWS-MAC outperforms both traditional TDMA and contention-based CSMA.