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UW Scientists Help Produce Natural Resources Guide for Public Universities

May 2, 2014
Wind turbine
University of Wyoming students tour the Dunlap I wind energy project near Medicine Bow to learn about natural resource management and energy development for the future. Those topics are included in a new report from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities to which five UW faculty members contributed. (UW Photo)

Five University of Wyoming scientists have joined with colleagues around the country to produce a report recommending how public and land-grant universities can meet six “grand challenges” over the next decade.

The “Science, Education, and Outreach Roadmap for Natural Resources,” released this week by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), recommends research, education and outreach activities regarding sustainability, water, climate change, agriculture, energy and education over the next decade.

John Tanaka, head of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management in the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, served on the advisory board for the roadmap. William Lauenroth, botany professor, and Ingrid Burke, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources director, joined 33 other scientists from around the U.S. to write the report. They served as science leaders in the climate change and education sections of the report, respectively.

Don Roth, molecular biology professor and deputy director for academics in the UW School of Energy Resources, reviewed the energy section of the report. Wayne Hubert, professor emeritus in the UW Department of Zoology and Physiology, served as a peer reviewer for the education chapter.

“Understanding how climate change will affect our air and water quality, and the important functions in our natural and agricultural ecosystems into the future, is going to be critical for our society,” Lauenroth says. “This roadmap outlines the greatest research needs, and hopefully will help research institutions across the country coordinate scientific efforts.”

The roadmap charts a path for natural resources research, education and outreach direction for public universities over the next five to 10 years. It identifies major challenges, knowledge gaps and priorities, and provides guidance for policy makers in strategic planning and investment. The document will support natural resources agencies, professional societies and non-governmental organizations in advocating for the use of sound science in natural resources decision-making. And the roadmap will facilitate the development of interdisciplinary research, education and outreach teams focused on natural resources challenges.

“If we’re going to be serious about addressing the natural resource challenges of the coming years, we need to make sure that students from an early age are learning about natural resource science and are thinking critically about the societal implications of how we manage our resources,” Burke says. “As our roadmap describes, we need to be more effective at communicating about natural resources sciences to citizens as well, and increase the diversity of our natural resources professionals.”

The six “grand challenges” addressed in the report are: 

-- Sustainability: The need to conserve and manage natural landscapes and maintain environmental quality while optimizing renewable resource productivity to meet increasing human demands for natural resources, particularly with respect to increasing water, food and energy demands.

-- Water: The need to restore, protect and conserve watersheds for biodiversity, water resources, pollution reduction and water security.

-- Climate change: The need to understand the impacts of climate change on our environment, including such aspects as disease transmission, air quality, water supply, ecosystems, fire, species survival and pest risk. Further, a comprehensive strategy is needed for managing natural resources to adapt to climate change.

-- Agriculture: The need to develop a sustainable, profitable and environmentally responsible agriculture industry.

-- Energy: The need to identify new and alternative renewable energy sources and improve the efficiency of existing renewable resource-based energy to meet increasing energy demands while reducing the ecological footprint of energy production and consumption.

-- Education: The need to maintain and strengthen natural resources education in schools at all levels in order to have the informed citizenry, civic leaders and practicing professionals needed to sustain the natural resources of the United States.

“Scientists at our public and land-grant universities have developed this report to more clearly identify the challenges we face and prioritize our research, education and outreach efforts,” APLU President Peter McPherson says. “It provides a needed framework and should help guide policy decisions in the coming years.”

The roadmap is available for download at,

APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization representing 235 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems and affiliated organizations.

For more information about UW’s involvement, contact Emilene Ostlind at (307) 766-2604 or The APLU’s contact is Jeff Lieberson, (202) 478-6073 or

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