Study's their business: Scientists's research wildlife, habitat at Northern PrairieA group of scientists studying wildlife-related topics provides critical ecological information to policymakers worldwide —directly from the internationally-recognized Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center southeast of Jamestown.
By: By Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
A group of scientists studying wildlife-related topics provides critical ecological information to policymakers worldwide —directly from the internationally-recognized Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center southeast of Jamestown.
“The center was founded as a focal point for research on migratory waterfowl, recognizing the importance of the Prairie Pothole region for ducks,” said Mark Sherfy, the center’s deputy director.
Since its 1965 founding, the wildlife center’s research mission has expanded to include topics that impact waterfowl, such as predator management, wetland ecology, invasive species and plants and invertebrates.
“We started thinking about how the entire prairie ecosystem fits together,” Sherfy said. “Our roots in waterfowl ecology led us to a better understanding of how the whole system fits together.”
While the center’s research is often used to inform public policy on ecological issues, its work remains scientific and not regulatory or enforcement-oriented.
“Our role is not to make decisions … but to help decision-makers determine what the outcomes of their decisions might be,” Sherfy said.
For example, rather than advocating a particular policy on Conservation Reserve Program lands, a Northern Prairie scientist might create a model to determine how the removal of land from CRP would affect waterfowl.
Information from that model would be turned over to people who do make policy, so that their decisions can be informed by science and research rather than conjecture.
“Our science is impartial and objective,” said Robert Gleason, the center’s director.
Work carried out by the NPWRC often supports and influences work done by other scientists.
For example, Gleason said, a wetland classification system developed at the center in 1979 has been used to inventory wetlands across the United States.
Often the center partners with other entities, such as universities and state agencies, as well as people in other scientific disciplines.
“Just about everything we do is interdisciplinary,” Gleason said.
A history of research
The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center is part of the U.S. Geological Survey, which in turn is managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The federal research center manages approximately 600 acres at its Jamestown facility, used for a wide variety of wildlife and ecology research projects.
Facilities on the land include two science buildings, a bunkhouse for seasonal employees, two residences for people who maintain the grounds and five storage and shop buildings.
Between 50 and 100 employees work with the center on a seasonal basis every year, in addition to the 47 scientists, researchers and administrative staff who work with the center full time.
The seasonal employees — and some of the center’s full-time employees — are distributed over a wide area, from Texas to Canada, because waterfowl migrate. However, everything they do goes back to that same ecosystem and the waterfowl and wildlife that live there, Sherfy said.
About 40 staff members work at the center’s headquarters outside of Jamestown, Sherfy said. About 15 of them are lead scientists responsible for putting together research projects that support the center’s mission.
Each of them works on three to eight projects at a time, coordinating any field work that needs to be done, gathering data and determining the significance of that data.
One of those scientists is Mike Anteau, a research wildlife biologist at the NPWRC in Jamestown.
His team seeks to understand how birds respond to their environment, creating what-if models that help policy-makers weigh actions that could help or hurt birds against the interests of other stakeholders.
The focus of Anteau’s other research is how wetlands respond to climate variation and land use. His group’s current project will track how the amount of wetland drainage in a watershed influences how the remaining wetlands there respond to climate variation.
“(There’s) concern — with a greater degree of drainage, that those larger wetlands become higher and more stable in response to climate,” Anteau said. “If that is the case, wetlands become less productive of waterfowl.”
Some of the center’s studies involve long-term monitoring of wetlands such as the Cottonwood Lake study area west of Jamestown. That location has been watched and studied since 1967, so much so that more than 100 scientific articles have been published about the site.
“It’s one of the most intensively-studied wetlands in the world,” Gleason said.
The center’s studies help scientists put together the whole picture of an ecosystem, Sherfy said.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at email@example.com