FISHERS — Indiana is known as the Crossroads of America. But for Dan Bortner, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the state motto has meaning beyond interstate connections.
“We really are at a crossroads,” he said. “We’re learning every day that the health of our environment, our people and our wildlife are all connected, and all three are facing unprecedented challenges.”
Now, the research needed to face those challenges will get a major boost after the state landed funding to join a federal program that will triple the number of government wildlife scientists investigating Indiana’s most pressing ecological issues.
The Cooperative Research Units Program (CRU) was established in 1935 to boost university graduates studying fisheries and wildlife sciences. The program also facilitates research and technical assistance between natural resource agencies and universities.
Indiana now joins 40 other states that operate research units, which are administered by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The program will be housed inside Purdue University’s forestry and natural resources department, which will provide offices, administrative support and access to about two dozen forests owned by the university.
The CRU, in turn, will help train more graduate students to pursue careers and research that support and protect the state’s natural resources, according to USGS Director David Applegate.
“This helps us motivate the next generation of scientists and resource managers by getting graduate research students involved in real-world research challenges,” he said last week at Connor Prairie in Fishers, where the program was announced.
The program will increase the number of state wildlife researchers from 10 to 30. That will allow the state to better understand and manage issues such as invasive species, animal diseases, fish populations and human impact on the environment, explained DNR director Bortner.
“In a world of change, data is the answer to uncertainty,” he said. “As one of my former bosses and former Purdue president once said, ‘If you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing.’”
Although the program has been around for nearly 90 years, funding issues have sporadically made it difficult to start new CRUs.
That left Indiana and surrounding states without units, depriving the Midwest of critical environmental research accessed by most other states.
That all changed in 2020, when federal lawmakers approved an additional $4 million for the program, increasing total funding to $24 million. That total climbed last year to $26 million.
The extra dollars allowed Michigan to join the program last year and Indiana this year. U.S. Sen Mike Braun of Indiana said during last week’s announcement that the CRU would “take stewardship and conservation to the next level” in the state.
Nationally, the extra funding has allowed the program to hire 37 new scientists in 31 states. The USGS has been approved to fill nine additional vacancies.
In the end, the new units in Indiana and Michigan, along with the increase in scientists and research, will play a critical role in providing hard science to help guide policymakers on how to best manage the Midwest’s natural resources, explained USGS director Applegate.
“We have this wonderful array of capabilities, whether it’s geology, hydrology, biology or mapping, and this brings all that science together and puts it to work,” he said.
Source : Kokomo Tribune