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New Mexico State University biologist selected for new environmental science leadership program

Laura Huenneke, head of the biology department at New Mexico State University, is one of 20 scientists selected nationally for the first class of the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program (ALLP), a new communications training program for environmental scientists.


The program is intended to improve the flow of accurate, credible scientific information to policy makers and the general public on critical environmental issues. The scientists will attend two one-week workshops for intensive study in providing leadership within the scientific community; providing scientific input to policy making; communicating with the news media; interacting with the corporate sector; and working with non-governmental organizations.

"When I first heard of the program, I immediately saw how helpful it could be," Huenneke said. "New Mexico is the setting for so many important environmental and natural resource problems -- endangered species, public rangelands management, forest health, border environment issues, development and desertification causing problems with water and air quality."

Scientific expertise is spread thin, she said, and most scientists are trained "to do science, not so much to talk about it."

Huenneke will take part in a training session in June at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon and another in September in Washington, D.C.

"NMSU plays an important role in supplying information to the public and to the agencies of the state, through its land grant mission, and I know that the experiences of the Leopold program will help me do a better job of that," she said.

Huenneke's research on Chihuahuan Desert ecosystems is supported by the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program and by the U.S. Geological Survey. Much of her field work is conducted at the Jornada Basin research site northeast of Las Cruces.

She received her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University in 1983, did postdoctoral training at Stanford University and joined the NMSU faculty in 1987.

Another member of the first ALLP class is Bill Schlesinger of Duke University, currently the lead investigator of the Jornada LTER program and a frequent visitor to Las Cruces. Others are from universities such as Stanford, Princeton, Notre Dame, Cornell and Colorado State. Huenneke is the only New Mexico scientist selected for the inaugural class.

"This first group of Fellows has been selected from a field of outstanding scientists," said ALLP Program Director Judith Vergun of Oregon State University. Their areas of expertise include water and air quality, diseases, fisheries, agriculture, contaminants, global climate change and endangered species.

Administered from Oregon State University, ALLP is affiliated with the Ecological Society of America and supported by a $1.5 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The program is named for Aldo Leopold, an environmental scientist who communicated scientific knowledge eloquently and effectively.

Forty more scientists will be selected for the program during the next two years, Vergun said.

More information about the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program is available on the program's Web site at http://www.leopold.orst.edu

Karl Hill