The University of Arkansas at Monticello, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center on Wednesday (Dec. 2) entered into a partnership for forestry and wildlife research and a graduate certificate program in conservation, property and land management.
The agreement was announced following a signing ceremony at the Five Oaks Duck Lodge south of Stuttgart.
“This is a groundbreaking example of a creative public and private partnership to provide solutions for both the land and people of Arkansas,” said Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System. “Timber and recreational hunting and fishing provide millions of dollars for the Arkansas economy each year and we see this partnership as a way to maintain a precious natural resource while enhancing employment opportunities for Arkansans.”
Research from this partnership will focus on means to improve the health of the state’s bottomland hardwood forests, especially red oaks, a key species in Arkansas. The groups will also look at how these improvements affect mallard and other dabbling duck populations.
The graduate certificate program is geared toward wetland and waterfowl conservation as well as property and land management to help fill a need in Arkansas and across the United States for qualified employees in an industry at the intersection of the wildlife and hospitality sectors.
“Two-hundred years ago, Arkansas was home to some 30 million acres of bottomland hardwood and today, we have about 40 percent of that. This research is needed to ensure the vigor of this important ecosystem,” said Mark Cochran, vice president-agriculture for the University of Arkansas System and head of the Division of Agriculture. “This agreement harnesses the power of the state’s academic and research programs and private sector expertise to accomplish goals none could do individually.”
UAM is home to both the College of Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, which handles academics and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center, which is funded by the Division of Agriculture for research.
Five Oaks and its owner George Dunklin, are well-known in wildlife circles. He served on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission from 2005-2012, chairing the organization in 2011-12. Five Oaks has been in business for 37 years.
Doug Osborne, PhD, associate professor of wildlife management at UAM, will serve as the program coordinator for the new Wetland and Waterfowl Habitat Management Graduate Certificate. He expects the most significant outcome from this program to be how well-prepared students will be for wetland and waterfowl management positions.
“The Five Oaks research and monitoring program aims to improve our understanding of wetland system processes and influences on mallard population dynamics,” Osborne said. “The knowledge gained will be used to educate public and private land managers and facilitate future land management decisions.”
“There’s a huge demand for biologists that possess both the foundational knowledge base of wildlife management and the skill set for implementing the practices necessary for effective management of wetland and waterfowl habitats. We believe this one-year graduate certificate program will help fill the void in our profession as we produce skilled biologists ready to take on the challenge,” Osborne added.
Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center was founded this year as a public charity.
“I am very excited about the partnership between Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center, the University of Arkansas Division of Ag and UAM,” Dunklin said. “I fully expect the research by the students as directed by their professors will lead to scientific findings that help make our bottomland habitats more productive for wintering waterfowl and in particular mallards. The other goals would be creating new professional land managers that will have extensive experience in applied research and educating the public of these findings.”
UAM Chancellor Peggy Doss said, “We have a unique set of programs in the UAM College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources. The partnership with Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center will strengthen research opportunities for students and faculty and enrich the university experience. We are all proud to be part of the positive implications that research will have on all wetland ecosystems.”