By Curtis Wolf - KWEC site manager
Many visitors that have come to the Kansas Wetlands Education Center recently have noticed some new construction. Currently two new buildings have been brought in and placed on foundations just east of the Center. These new additions to the KWEC grounds involve a project in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism to increase the possibility for scientific research at Cheyenne Bottoms and the surrounding area. When completed, the two buildings will provide temporary housing for researchers, as well as a full research laboratory.
Conducting scientific research is an important part of the KWEC mission, and is often one of those activities that happens “behind the scenes”. However, supporting a research program provides a whole new function of the KWEC and Cheyenne Bottoms and provides an additional attraction to bring a different audience of visitors into the area.
Many patrons do not realize that there has been research conducted through the KWEC over the past two and a half years.
Each year, the KWEC funds four graduate assistantships to Fort Hays State University graduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences. The graduate students attend classes at FHSU and develop and conduct research for their Master’s thesis projects with faculty at FHSU, but also work a couple days a week at the KWEC answering visitors’ questions, leading tours of Cheyenne Bottoms, and helping with educational programs.
The original intention of these assistantships was for students to conduct research at Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. However, without housing on site, it is very difficult for the students, who typically live at Hays, to cover their coursework and KWEC responsibilities, as well as their research. The housing and lab will allow the students to stay in the area for short periods of time to work at the KWEC and work on their research, especially during weekends and summer months.
Currently, three of the four KWEC graduate students are conducting research in Barton County. One student is studying grassland nesting birds on the Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve. Another is studying small mammals at Cheyenne Bottoms. And, a third is studying the effects of red cedar invasion on grassland birds in areas surrounding Cheyenne Bottoms. Past KWEC graduate students have completed research at both Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira NWR on a variety of topics.
Future research opportunities are being explored, and we hope that eventually the KWEC will be recognized as the hub for wetlands research in the region.
This summer, the research labs will also be used by a company that offers certification courses to environmental professionals on wetland topics such as wetland delineation and wetland plant identification. The three courses will each bring in about 20 individuals from across the U.S. for 4 day courses.
In the future, the KWEC also plans to partner with other Kansas colleges and universities to supply researchers to Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira NWR.
Next time you are in the KWEC, quiz the graduate students that are working at the front desk about their research. You might find out more than you ever wanted to know about their research topics.