Given the gap between scientists and the public: “Scientists must find new ways to engage the public” - President Obama. A “sense of place” in nature is fundamental to understanding and informed citizenry. Field Stations are such places: a 2014 National Academy of Science report concluded that the place-based knowledge that field stations provide makes better informed resource managers, decision-makers, and citizens. Consider Texas, where the 90% urban/95% private property disconnect provides “field stations” the opportunity to increase science-based environmental literacy-rural/urban connections. Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station in the Texas Hill Country enjoys a strategic geographic position to conduct water/watershed, invasive species impacts, ecological and education in a critical region encompassing an area larger than 10 states. An important feature is the Edwards Plateau, characterized by a large number of springs and forming the headwaters of 7 major river systems. New and ongoing projects are: 1) Watershed Planning through stakeholder coordination with EPA’s Healthy Watersheds framework, 2) partnerships with the National Park Service and USGS South Central Climate Science Center, 3) range, riparian and watershed demonstration projects, 4) human diversity initiatives with ESA and community colleges, 5) evaluating ecosystem services and 6) environmental literacy through LRFS’s Outdoor School.
LRFS engages in innovative initiatives with outside entities. The Water Symposium—a joint project with Texas Public Radio—provides perspectives from policymakers and scientists on the challenges in providing water for Texas. Working with the National Park Service RTCA Program, LRFS developed 3.2 miles of land trails that border a 4.4 mile paddle trail that highlight BMPs for natural resources. LRFS has a role with the U.S. Geological Survey’s South Central Climate Science Center, which provides scientific information about climate disruption. Watershed Planning/Education through a protection plan with EPA’s Healthy Watersheds framework using a stakeholder process for decision-making on issues; ecosystem services; landowner concerns; types of treatment measures needed/recommended; and implementation. Other projects involved economic impact studies of fishing for endemic Guadalupe bass and assessment of student improved academic performance after attending our Outdoor School. Building authentic relationships has been critical to LRFS connections and legitimacy. Reaching out to the community leaders and “believers” in our collective potential (mayors, legislators, county judges, ranchers, etc.) laid the foundation for engagement and trust. Field Stations, together with agency partnerships and stakeholder/landowner involvement in research and education are resistance and resilience components of watersheds that promote stability by increasing capacity to absorb disturbances.