Developing a field-station research and management plan for a non-land-grant research extensive university in the Northern Great Plains
Most land-grant institutions in the United States were established with the intention of coordinating on-campus activities with education and research initiatives at off-campus locations. Physical and administrative infrastructure to support off-campus education and research missions was dedicated as these institutions were established and, in many cases, such well-defined institutional support has contributed to their success and longevity. Through the efforts of private donors and dedicated faculty, many non-land grant institutions have also acquired off-campus field-stations. However, faculty often struggle to use and manage these locations effectively due to a lack of institutional, administrative, physical, and intellectual support. One such example occurs at the University of North Dakota. Thanks to several initiatives by former faculty and alums, the University of North Dakota owns over 1640 acres within the UND field-stations that includes: the largest tract of remnant grassland within the Red River Valley (Oakville Prairie); riparian and stream environments (Forest River); and intensive row-crop agriculture. While these environments are typical of much of the natural and working landscapes of the Northern Great Plains, they have only been sporadically managed or used for education and research within the last 50 years.
Since 2010 we have increased institutional, administrative, physical, and intellectual support for field station use. A University Field Station Committee, including administrative, facilities, and faculty representatives, now oversees operation of the sites, formally institutionalizing the field stations within the UND administrative structure. To develop physical infrastructure, we garnered administrative support for: construction of equipment storage facilities; development of a common laboratory space, and set-aside agricultural land for manipulative experimental research. We increased intellectual support by hiring tenure-track faculty with expertise in grassland ecology and soil microbiology. We also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with eight government agencies and conservation groups to better facilitate regional conservation efforts. The next phase of the project will involve development of specific management, research, and education objectives. To start this process, we conducted an interdisciplinary student and faculty seminar on grassland ecology in spring 2013. While participants could clearly articulate how the field stations could be used to contribute to applied ecology, it was more challenging to conceptualize how the field stations could be used to advance basic ecological knowledge. This project will continue in Fall 2013 as we host an interdisciplinary workshop to highlight opportunities for capitalizing on the unique ecological and social aspects associated with our location in the Northern Great Plains.