External Consultants Report
Dr. Richard Snyder (Professor and Director, Eastern Shore Laboratory, Virginia Institute of Marine Science) and Dr. Matthew Hock (Department of Biology, Lamar University) conducted a comprehensive external review of Tarleton’s Timberlake Biological Field Station in May 2021 resulting in a 22 page document entitled “Review and Recommendations for Timberlake Field Station, Tarleton University, Stephenville, Texas.”
The following is a brief summary of their report:
- It was recommended that the name be changed to “Timberlake Field Station” (dropping Biological from the name) to reflect/promote interdisciplinary use spanning all colleges and disciplines. Further, the director should utilize current platforms such as the Speaker Symposium Lecture Series, Honors College Speaker Series, and Student Research Symposium to reach a broad audience of potential users.
- Two advisory boards should be established: one encompassing Tarleton faculty and staff; and a second related to “Friends of the Timberlake Station” comprised of donors, community leaders, etc.
- “To ensure the future protection of the site, the University should explore legal protection under a conservation easement. If the state of Texas does not provide such a mechanism, or if that mechanism is not available to the University as a state agency, then other legal means to do so should be explored, such as NGOs that would secure the development rights in perpetuity to ensure the site remains intact.” This statement highlights the view of the consultants that this is a unique property and that the gift of this property to the University should not be looked at as an opportunity for future revenue but rather as a unique asset to be preserved.
- Priority should be placed on establishing high speed internet to the facilities. It was further suggested that the NSF Infrastructure Capacity for Biological Research program may be a viable route for external funding to meet this need well into the future. It was further noted that once a reliable internet connection is established, the possibility of housing a research-grade telescope on site would be feasible, and perhaps funding of a new telescope along with the required internet connection was another possible way to use external funding to bring high speed internet to the station.
- There is an immediate need for at least two additional buildings including one or two buildings specifically designed for student housing and a lab building including both wet and dry lab space.
- A portion of the funds designated for ranch management (such funds will come from the sale of the Johanson’s San Saba County properties) should be considered to establish a salaried on-site employee that would serve as the ranch manager/foreman. It was further recommended that the Director should be on full salary with additional funds designated for an administrative assistant.
- The field station has the potential to serve the University and community in many ways: “The site is perfect for faculty retreats, small conferences, workshops, small agency meetings, especially if paired with tours of the landscape. Master Naturalist classes, Goldthwaite Botanical Gardens, NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation District Boards are good examples of groups to serve, and some of this activity is clearly already happening.” “Artists could be invited to use the site, individuals as well as Plein Air and K-12 art and nature events would be appropriate. Regional and community cultural engagement is as important as engaging the larger scientific users. Other creative mechanisms to connect society to environment should be encouraged and part of the Station Mission.” These and other opportunities need to be fully realized to take advantage of the resources available.
- K-12 teacher education and involvement of regional K-12 students should be a priority. Further, establishing programs/relationships with regional and state institutions of higher education could lead to increased usage, research opportunities, and exposure.
- Noting that Timberlake Ranch is located at the junction of the Cross Timbers and Edwards Plateau ecoregions and is bordered by the mid-reaches of the Colorado River, it was noted that “The site is amenable to landscape-scale replicated and manipulated experimentation in addition to biodiversity, restoration, riverine dynamics, and smaller scale experimental field work and research with unique local biota.” It was further suggested that the site may be compatible with NSF’s LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) funding, and avenue that should be pursued.
- TIAER, TPWD, TECQ, and others should be leveraged/involved in environmental monitoring of the Colorado River related to restoration of key river species.
- The Environmental Sciences other programs at Tarleton need to be engaged to collect baseline data across the field station and monitoring plans should be put into place to track changes both in response to climate change and the transition of the ranch from a working cattle ranch to an ecological preserve.
- Numerous recommendations for use of existing structures and equipment were proposed, as well as the suggestion that the purchase of a small utility tractor would be beneficial for current and future maintenance and improvements.
- The current hunting lease associated with Brad Justiss and his colleagues should be continued to help regulate white-tailed deer populations as well as to generate revenue for the field station.