Renewed funding for environmental research extends UMN’s reach

The Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve will receive $6 million.

Jeannine Cavender-Bares discusses the effects of burning different land plots at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel on Saturday, Sept. 9 2018. The center recently turned 75 years old and teaches scientists the current understanding of biodiversity and its importance. 

Courtney Deutz

Jeannine Cavender-Bares discusses the effects of burning different land plots at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel on Saturday, Sept. 9 2018. The center recently turned 75 years old and teaches scientists the current understanding of biodiversity and its importance. 

Nikki Pederson

The Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, a 5,000 acre reserve in East Bethel, Minnesota is set to receive renewed funding from the National Science Foundation, which will allow the University to extend its reach past the Twin Cities.

The $6 million grant, which is spread out over six years, allows the University-owned reserve to keep up an almost 35-year run of continuous funding and long-term research.

The reserve learned of the funding this summer, but will not be officially financed until the NSF is ready to provide the funding, said Eric Seabloom, one of the co-leaders of Cedar Creek’s Long-Term Ecological Research.

While there are hundreds of experiments at Cedar Creek, the reserve is mostly focused on how human activities alter the ecosystem.

Much of the research, like tracking effects of increased temperatures or carbon dioxide levels, takes a long time to track, Seabloom said. The new funding will allow Cedar Creek to continue to study ecological impacts of environmental changes, according to a brief abstract of the grant.

Researchers and ecologists in the early 1980’s created the Long Term Ecological Research Network after realizing the importance of studying ecological processes over long periods of time, Seabloom said. Cedar Creek is one of about two dozen sites across the U.S., Puerto Rico and Antarctica. Cedar Creek was one of the first to receive continuous funding, he said.

“It gives me a much greater ability to make statements and predictions about what’s going to happen in the world, and feel more confident in our conclusions,” Seabloom said of the long-term research.

Cedar Creek is not the only off-campus field station that the University runs. The Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories, within the College of Biological Sciences, is also dedicated to researching the environment. Unique to Itasca is the ability for undergraduate students to stay extended periods of time at the station while they work on classes and conduct research.

“The one thing about a field station is that it’s focused on a place rather than on a theory or idea or initiative,” said Jonathan Schilling, director of the Itasca station.

Outside of CBS are more field, research and outreach stations. The Cloquet Forestry Center is one of 10 Research and Outreach Centers within the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Besides research, a large component of these stations is outreach. Cedar Creek sees almost 5,000 visitors a year, including K-12 education and public officials, and Itasca has seen tens of thousands of visitors over the past decade, according to their website.

The Research and Outreach Centers within CFANS provide venues for extension and outreach to translate research into practical ideas.

“Without taking our research out into the hands of people who can actually use it, our research is not of much value,” said Eli Sagor, manager of the Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative at Cloquet. “It needs to be put into practice.”

Field stations and outreach centers support the mission of the University, Seabloom said.

“There’s a little bit of distrust in science, which boils down to a lack of understanding scientists,” Schilling said. Public outreach is one of the most important community building tools researchers need right now, he said.

It’s also what makes the University unique from others in the state, Sagor said.

“Ours is the only one that has that public service and outreach as a core part of its footing and values,” he said.