Resources from the Cooperative Extension System are available in every county or parish in all 50 states. Extension works to extend knowledge and information beyond academic institutions to citizens in the state. The nation’s more than 100 land-grant universities have Extension as part of their mission. Yet, often researchers in non land-grant institutions and the public are not aware of the capabilities of Extension professionals. However, Extension professionals are an important conduit for accessible research-based information and localized knowledge of ecological best practices. In addition, many states have Extension-driven volunteer programs focused on natural resource stewardship such as Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, and Beach Watchers. The professionals and programs provided by Extension can be a valuable asset for ecological research to be accessed and applied to real world problems to create positive change.
We provide an example of how collaboration between Washington State University Extension, University of Washington (a non land-grant institution), and other partners has been effective at making applied research on biofuels and ecosystem services available to a variety of stakeholders. The research project, Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest (AHB), is funded by USDA NIFA and is designed to be a collaborative effort to lay the foundation for a sustainable poplar tree biofuels and bio-based chemicals industry. As the price of oil dropped and biofuels became economically unfeasible, this collaboration provided the opportunity for research on biofuel feedstocks to be more focused on ecosystem services. By working with stakeholders, the AHB Extension team realized that current growers of poplar trees were primarily growing the trees for ecosystem services of removing contaminants and excess nutrients from soil and water. The Extension team believes there are even more opportunities to grow biofuel feedstocks for their ecosystem services. This connection with Extension has been able to drive the research in a new direction. We suggest that ecologists should be aware and look for collaborations with Extension professionals in their respective fields.