Developing collaborative relationships to enhance field station management and use within the Northern Plains
The University of North Dakota manages over 1000 acres of on and off-campus natural areas, including a large tract of remnant grassland (Oakville Prairie) and natural (Forest River) and urban (English Coulee) riparian and stream environments. While these environments are typical of much of the natural landscapes of the Northern Great Plains, they have only been sporadically managed within the last 50 years. Since 2010, faculty, students, and administrators at UND have been working with external agencies to develop and implement management within these areas that will benefit faculty research programs, improve student educational experiences, and provide community recreation and volunteer opportunities. These efforts have involved innovative collaborations with state, federal, non-profit, and citizen groups to pool expertise and resources to facilitate natural areas management. The main focus of this effort has been the UND Oakville Prairie Field Station, but the resulting collaborations have had far reaching effects on the social, economic, and natural resource integrity of the region.
The steps to bolster UND natural area management, research, and education use began with a concentrated effort to incorporate field station operations within UND administrative structure, to increase intellectual support, and develop physical infrastructure to support education and research activity. A major milestone was UND’s involvement in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with eight government agencies and conservation groups to better facilitate regional conservation efforts. This collaboration resulted in formation of student internship opportunities, collaboration with private landowners to improve regional agricultural practices, and formation of two additional public access wildlife management areas. The natural areas are currently used within the research programs of five UND faculty members and are a component of at least six courses spanning multiple departments on campus. The greatest challenge has been in how to sustainably fund research and management efforts. UND manages ~600 acres of agricultural land that provides a relatively stable source of lease income for sustainable long-term management of the sites and seed money for matching funds and pilot research projects. This funding stream has been supplemented by faculty external grant requests. In 2014 alone, faculty submitted 6 grant applications requesting over $2.5 million dollars to facilitate activity associated with these areas. Funding acquired thus far has been used to support a collaborative prescribed fire management program, and we look forward to further building campus natural areas as demonstration sites for how to integrate economic, education, research, and cultural activities in the region.