Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
We have now entered a new era in wildlife research and management wherein the questions are more complex and the competition for funds to conduct studies is fierce. Simultaneously, the administration of the WSA has gone through a rearrangement of authorities and responsibilities. The land--always FWS property--and the buildings comprising the research facility--built with FWS funds through the Research Program--are now administered by different agencies, respectively the FWS and the National Biological Service (NBS). Making such dramatic change in long-term arrangements is difficult in any circumstance, but such is particularly difficult to engineer in structured bureaucracies. Nonetheless, through a formal agreement several years in the making, the FWS now retains its authority to manage the land with reference to the requirements inherent in its mission. Likewise, through this agreement the needs of the research program administered by Northern Prairie Science Center, now part of the NBS, are guaranteed. The site is thus perhaps unique within the Department of the Interior in that a land management and research program are meshed such that each is fully supportive of the other. Annual coordination meetings guarantee complementary priorities, and day-to-day management of the site is accomplished with great efficiency.
We believe that the work accomplished at the WSA to date is the best possible example of how management and research should be coordinated. We can think of no better outcome than this session encouraging others to develop similar arrangements to foster the needs of managers throughout the Great Plains and elsewhere for information on best management practices. The need is there. Federal, state, and private lands can ill-afford mismanagement; current availability of funds dictates that only the most efficient management be implemented. This session is thus in one sense a challenge to everyone that they "think big," and not be deterred by the complications of generating and then sustaining long-term, comprehensive studies. Only through such approaches can we determine what is our next best management decision in the face of oscillating wet-dry cycles, the extremes of climate, and the great changes agriculture has wrought in the environment of the northern Great Plains.
As will be obvious to those attending today and to those reading the proceedings, there are far more scientific products available from WSA studies than could be represented within the context of this special session. This will be especially obvious after examining the partial list of publications prepared by Johnson et al. (1) and Johnson (2). Thus, a complete overview was not possible. In addition, Nelson (3) discusses the various ways that scientific products from WSA have been integrated into a variety of natural resource management plans, both in the United States and internationally. Such integration has been a large part of the success of WSA studies. Thus, a full review of the ultimate impact of the research conducted at the WSA is also beyond the capabilities of this session. Although it was difficult to decide what to cover, we requested that presenters provide overviews of past work from representative disciplines and from the perspective of a more recent emphasis on broader ecological studies that require interdisciplinary approaches. New research presented herein, most of which is still in progress, reflects a similar theme. It is our desire that the examples set forth in the following papers provide not only information of direct scientific and management value, but also provide examples of the value of long-term studies in addressing changing priorities in natural resource science and management.