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UW Dedicates Berry Center

January 21, 2011
People listening to a speaker
Greg Brown, director of the Robert and Carol Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center, speaks Friday during a dedication ceremony for the newest facility on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie.

The ribbon was cut Friday on a state-of-the-art biodiversity conservation facility at the University of Wyoming. The center has been created through the generosity of Bob and Carol Berry and a match from the State of Wyoming.

The 40,000-square-foot Robert and Carol Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center is a focal point for the study, documentation, and conservation of natural history and biodiversity (the number and variety of organisms found within a specified geographic region) at UW. This includes variations on a macro to micro level, from ecosystem-level spatial and temporal variations to those within single genes.

The center's mission is to document and understand regional and global biological diversity through the acquisition and investigation of collections made by faculty, staff, and students to advance academic knowledge and public appreciation of the natural world.

 "The life sciences have long been an area of distinction for the University of Wyoming, and the Robert and Carol Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center will provide an exceptional opportunity for UW to elevate our academic programs in this realm," says UW President Tom Buchanan.

The Berry Center was made possible through a $10 million gift from the Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation managed by the Berrys, and that fund was doubled through the Wyoming state matching program. The Berrys are strong advocates for conservation and are known for their efforts on the behalf of falcons, especially the neotropical orange-breasted falcon.

"The center is an investment in future generations of scholars and conservationists who will view their education with excitement and pride," says Bob Berry.

Buchanan, Greg Brown, director of the Berry Center, B. Oliver Walter, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Bob Berry spoke at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

"We can't thank Bob and Carol enough, as well as the Wyoming Legislature with its matching funds program, for making this remarkable facility possible," Buchanan says.

"The Berrys are philanthropists with a vision," says Ben Blalock, UW Foundation President. "Working with Bob and Carol is a privilege and a pleasure. It is an honor to partner with the Berrys in the important advancement of UW's work in the field of biodiversity conservation."

The Berry Center will support the education and research of UW undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff in the related fields of ecology, genetics, population biology, systematics, and molecular biology.

"Advancing the understanding of natural history and conservation at UW is the mission of the Berry Center, and this wonderful new building provides the focal point for this," Brown says. "I see the Berry Center as being particularly effective in stimulating research and education in the arena of biodiversity and conservation, particularly for Wyoming and the region."

Specifically, the center will house UW's vertebrate Zoology Collection, the Program in Ecology (PiE) administrative offices, the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNND), and three core research facilities-the Stable Isotope Facility (SIF), the Nucleic Acid Exploration facility (NAEF), and the Macromolecular Core Equipment Facility (MCEF).

"The center will provide state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities and be a nexus for our faculty and students studying and conducting research in disciplines such as ecology, biodiversity, genetics, population biology, botany, and molecular biology, just to name a few," says Buchanan.

The facility includes display areas, a 114-seat lecture hall, a 36-seat teaching laboratory, public meeting areas, seminar rooms, a "dirty" laboratory for the processing of field biological collections, offices for visiting researchers and office space for 22 graduate students.

When fully occupied, the Berry Center will be home to about 50 faculty, staff, research scientists and graduate students.

"The physical ambiance of the center sets a high standard for academic excellence, consolidating a wide spectrum of biological disciplines under a single roof, creating an environment conducive for student to student and student to faculty interactions that will advance good science," says Bob Berry.

Bob and Carol Berry are originally from Pennsylvania, where Bob was CEO of The United States Liability Insurance Group of Insurance Companies. In 1978, they moved their family to a small ranch outside of Sheridan, where their two school-aged children attended Sheridan High School.  Bob commuted to Pennsylvania to oversee his business for the next 19 years before the company's sale.

Since childhood, Bob has been fascinated with the natural world, and at age 10 he captured a fledgling Kestrel which set the course for his life's work in conservation. He was a witness to the extinction of the eastern Appalachian Peregrine Falcon in the mid 1950s and helped found the Peregrine Fund, Inc. in 1970, a conservation organization that played a major role in the species' restoration throughout the United States.  He is currently the Director of the Peregrine Fund's Orange-breasted Falcon Program with a mission to monitor and save this regionally endangered species from extinction in Central America. Bob is a former trustee of the Wyoming chapter of the Nature Conservancy and serves on the board of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

In 1992, the couple established the Wolf Creek Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming where they manage a working cattle ranch and raise falcons for the sport of falconry and for release in the tropics.  Carol is an accomplished portrait and landscape artist.  Bob experiments with plant cultivars and wetland restoration to improve habitat for grassland birds and waterfowl.  The Berrys have placed perpetual conservation easements with the Nature Conservancy on their property to protect it from development.

In addition to this generous gift to establish the center, the Berrys also donated $1 million in 2002 to establish the Robert B. Berry Distinguished Chair in Ecology, which emphasizes ornithology. The first recipient of this honor was Dr. Craig Benkman, whose research focuses on linking resource availability to behavior, ecology, evolution and conservation.

Bob Berry has been recognized as Landowner of the Year by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and received Panama's highest honor, the Order of Manuel Amador Guerrero, for his support of neotropical raptor research and conservation.

"Our feathered friends will play a major role in the center's future because birds are loved by more people than any other group of organisms and are arguably the best indicators we have of our mutual environmental health," says Berry.

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