Biodiversity Institute

The Biodiversity Institute is expected to remain “intact in its outreach, administration of the Program in Ecology, and convening of activities” through at least the 2020 fiscal year under a plan Ed Synakowski, Vice President for Research and Economic Development, will present to the Board of Trustees next week.

According to an executive summary of that presentation, UW is appointing a new director to head the Biodiversity Institute. That director will “deliver the majority of this presentation” to the trustees.

Brent Ewers, a professor in the Department of Botany specializing in plant physiological ecology, is listed in the board packet as presenting, along with Synakowski, the new plan for the Biodiversity Institute’s future.

UW spokesman Chad Baldwin declined to say whether that means Ewers is taking over as director, or if any current operations of the Biodiversity Institute will discontinue in the upcoming fiscal year.

“You should get some further answers during/after the board meeting,” he said in an email.

Under the plan, a new director is set to replace Gary Beauvais, who’s been serving as the organization’s interim director for about two years.

Synakowski’s office will provide “unspent state dollars” to continue Biodiversity Institute operations through the 2019 fiscal year. A new budget for the 2020 fiscal years will be presented to the trustees in May.

“It’s good news, because I wasn’t sure which way it was going to jump,” Faculty Senate chairman Donal O’Toole told the Laramie Boomerang. “It makes me happier — half-a-chocolate-bar happier.”

The executive summary states that the new Biodiversity Institute director will lead a “planning activity” task force with faculty and UW Foundation representation for a new organization: The Biodiversity Center.

That plan would create three individual entities with similar names: The Biodiversity Institute, the Biodiversity Center, and the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center.

“With a budget supported by (the Office of Research and Economic Development), the task force will develop a plan for strengthening and coordinating biodiversity research from across the campus and identifying external partnerships,” the presentation summary states. “A target will be developing a self-sustaining resource model that draws upon grant capture from federal and state programs, as well as corporate and other private contributions. Developing a capacity to maximize economic and social impact will be a focus. The aim is to bring the (Biodiversity Institute) under the (Biodiversity Center) as its outreach arm, with outreach driven by the research conduct.”

That plan will be presented for trustees’ approval in the fall.

In July, UW originally announced plans to close the Biodiversity Institute by the end of 2018 after its primary donors, Bob and Carol Berry, discontinued their aid for the program.

After substantial backlash in the following months, the Board of Trustees delayed making a decision in November about closing the Biodiversity Institute.

Several trustees expressed concern over the plan to close the center, which opened in 2012.

In its six years of existence, the Biodiversity Institute has been largely focused citizen science and K-12 education in the state.

Many connected to the Biodiversity Institute criticized UW for not diversifying its funding sources during the first six years of its existence.

O’Toole said he’s more optimistic about the Biodiversity Institute’s prospects now that there’s an opportunity to seek more funding.

“I have to imagine that given the concern about wildlife issues … there are going to be folks out there to pony up to keep things going,” O’Toole said.

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