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New Mexico State biologist to head statewide environmental institute

With the aid of a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, New Mexico universities will create an institute whose purpose is to generate new understanding of the natural resources of New Mexico and to make data on water, land and biodiversity in the state available to scientists, land managers and policy makers, said New Mexico State University biology professor Daniel Howard.



Funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, New Mexico State University biology professor Daniel J. Howard will head a institute aimed at coordinating and analyzing data on water, land and biodiversity from around the state and making the information available to decision makers. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

While key parts of the New Mexico Institute for Natural Resource Analysis and Management (INRAM) will be located at New Mexico State, work will be shared by the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech, New Mexico Highlands, Eastern New Mexico University and Western New Mexico University, said Howard, who will be the institute's director.

The $3 million grant is part of a larger, $6.2 million grant awarded to New Mexico in March through the NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program, which will be administered through the University of New Mexico, he said.

Among the initiatives to be launched by INRAM are:

- Creation of a Laboratory of Environmental Spatial Analysis (LESA), a fully equipped laboratory for environmental analysis using geographic information science and remote sensing technology. LESA will be overseen by Michael DeMers, head of New Mexico State's geography department, in cooperation with New Mexico State's Center for Agricultural Remote Sensing and Meteorology and UNM's Earth Data Analysis Center.

- Creation of a Laboratory for Environmental Chemistry (LEC) with state-of-the-art facilities and technical expertise for chemical analyses of water soil, plant and animal samples. LEC will be housed at New Mexico State and directed by biology associate professor William Boecklen.

- Support of forest research, and research into the effects of the Cerro Grande and Viveash fires, by New Mexico Highlands University through the purchase of field vehicles, computer hardware and other equipment, and by providing funds to support a faculty position in New Mexico Highland's Natural Resources Management Department.

- Support of New Mexico Tech's use of remote sensing technology for the study of water cycling problems in semiarid environments by providing funds to support the hiring of an assistant professor and a computer technician to specialize in that area.

- Equipment and training to pursue studies of genetic variation in plants and animals will be provided by New Mexico State's Laboratory of Ecological and Evolutionary Genetics, which has agreed to be incorporated into INRAM, said Howard, who heads that laboratory.

DeMers said LESA will allow for the input, storage, editing retrieval, analysis and output of mapable data on animals, vegetation, water, minerals and chemical analyses of environmental factors.

"It's designed to let researchers across the state interact, so they can create good science on which management decisions can be based," he said. "There will be a server here at NMSU, but the system will be networked statewide."

Timothy Lowrey, director of the University of New Mexico's Museum of Southwestern Biology, who will oversee the biodiversity component of the institute, said natural history museums statewide will put their collections on databases that will be networked through the LESA system.

"This will be the first time any museum in the state has been on a database and, furthermore, those databases will be linked. So we will have information about what's in the south as well as in the north. We'll also be able to highlight those areas in the state which have not been collected and inventoried, so researchers can go to those areas," he said.

Howard said the INRAM's ability to put the museums' information into a database is a tribute to the work of curators around the state who preserved their collections through a period in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when the work of collectors was not academically fashionable.

"In New Mexico we have preserved our collections and scientists nationwide are now beginning to recognize their value," he said.

"Also, there is a high level of biodiversity in New Mexico -- many different species of plants and animals reach the limit of their ranges within the boundaries of the state. This makes New Mexico a sensitive barometer of environmental change," he added.

"Putting together the institute has been a team effort and I should recognize the work, not only of DeMers and Lowrey, but of Eric Small at New Mexico Tech, Brook Milligan and Vincent Gutschick, in our biology department, the support of our department head Laura Huenneke, and of Ted Sammis, the state climatologist at New Mexico State," he said.

Photo is available at http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/howard_dan.jpg.
CUTLINE: Funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, New Mexico State University biology professor Daniel J. Howard will head a institute aimed at coordinating and analyzing data on water, land and biodiversity from around the state and making the information available to decision makers. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Jack King
March 12, 2002