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 learning, understanding and an informed citizenry. Field Stations provide some of those places and are catalysts. To build on the important role that field stations play in research, education, and stewardship, the 2014 National Academy of Science (NAS) 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, agricultural, and ecological studies and education in a critical region encompassing 25 counties, an area larger than 10 U.S. states. An important feature is the Edwards Plateau, characterized by a large number of springs and forming the headwaters of 7 major river systems. LRFS provides a comprehensive spectrum of collaborations focused on finding solutions to regional problems related to watershed and range science, freshwater systems and natural resource education, with national and international implications. We engage/partner with state & federal agencies (14), school districts (65), professional scientific and educational organizations (8), funding agencies, NGOs, municipalities, landowners, community colleges and other universities who share expertise, planning and resources.
LRFS initiatives involve: 1) grants for research and engagement, 2) professional scientific/educational conferences, 3) innovative partnerships (Water Symposium with Texas Public Radio). New and ongoing projects are: 1) Watershed Planning and Education through stakeholder coordination, a protection plan with EPA’s Healthy Watersheds Group framework, 2) partnerships with the National Park Service RTCA Program and Amistad National Recreation Area, 3) a role with the newly designated USGS South Central Climate Science Center, 4) range, riparian and watershed demonstration projects, 5) human diversity initiatives with the Ecological Society of America and community colleges, 6) evaluating ecosystem services and community economic impact of research and 7) natural resource/environmental literacy through LRFS’s Outdoor School, internationally recognized as a Texas Exemplar Program using standards based, transdisciplinary multiple best learning practices and GLOBE protocols instruction linking innovative curriculum with nature//outdoors.
Field Stations, such as LRFS provides an exemplar for boundary spanning which is critical in fostering horizontal integration across the many administrative units of a university, local and regional communities, and among state and federal agencies. Field Stations are a nexus for water, natural resource and environmental education among diverse communities, resulting from a systems approach to garner participation and partnerships. 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.