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Administrators Tour Field Center

Several Sam Houston State University administrators and faculty members toured the Harmon Creek bottomlands northeast of Huntsville recently for a look at the Department of Biological Sciences' Center for Biological Field Studies.

The center occupies the site of the old Huntsville Fish Hatchery, on 248-acres of woodlands, lowlands and other diversified habitat located at the end of FM 2821 about three miles east of the city.

Participating in the tour were David Payne, vice president for academic affairs; Christopher Baldwin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Andrew Dewees, chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences; Everett Wilson, professor of biology; Monte Thies, associate professor of biology and project director for the center development project; and Mark Leipnik, assistant professor of geography and geology.

Funding is being sought for development costs, including an education center. Additional construction, equipment and furnishing costs bring the estimated funding needs to more than $120,000, with Sam Houston State University contributing more than $60,000.

The property was used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife from 1932 until 1986, when a flood destroyed a dam which provided a storage reservoir, leaving the hatchery without a reliable water supply. In 1993 the Department of Biological Sciences proposed and was granted, in 1995, a long-term lease on the property and the two entities agreed to work together in development of a field station.

"It is ideal for a field station for several reasons," said Dewees. "It is close to the SHSU campus and Huntsville community, is accessible by an excellent road, and is bordered to the east and south by national forest."

According to Thies, the site has a wide diversity of habitats, making it an excellent outdoor laboratory for environmental education and research programs."

"It is envisioned that most of the area will be left 'natural'," said Thies, "while other areas will be managed with specific objectives. These will include such goals as limited management for the resident red-cockaded woodpeckers."

Under plans developed by the Department of Biological Sciences, the existing ponds, now in various stages of overgrowth, will be maintained as habitat for neotropical migrants, wintering birds, and populations of indigenous mammals. Levee systems between some of the ponds will be removed to form a small lake and intermittent wetlands, with open mud flats providing habitat for wintering and migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

Other ponds will be allowed to fill periodically for amphibian breeding sites. A number of bird nest boxes, along with bat houses, have already been erected to attract those species requiring cavities for nesting or roosting.

"The diversity of habitat types and the associated wildlife will provide the opportunity for numerous educational programs and research projects for university, secondary, and elementary students, as well as the local community," said Dewees.

While limited by the center's lack of development, several SHSU classes have already taken advantage of the site, as well as activities by the Huntsville High School senior environmental science class and 4H forest management judging competitions. SHSU faculty and graduate students already have completed a number of research projects at the center.

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SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
May 20, 1999
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