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Illinois state scientific surveys slated to become part of U. of I.


Sharita Forrest, News Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The four state scientific surveys – the Illinois State Geological Survey, the Illinois Natural History Survey, the Illinois Waste Management and Research Center, and the Illinois State Water Survey – will become part of the U. of I. if a plan proposed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich is approved. The surveys, on the U. of I.’s Urbana campus, would be organized as a new unit, the Institute for Natural Sciences and Sustainability, under the university’s auspices beginning in Fiscal Year 2009.

The institute would serve as a focal point for applied energy, environmental science and sustainability programs throughout the state, taking advantage of the surveys’ complementary goals and missions of providing the scientific underpinnings for energy, sustainability, environmental policy and natural resource management, ensuring that the natural environment is developed to enhance the well being of the citizens of Illinois and the state’s economic viability.

The surveys and the campus each have strong programs in natural resources, energy and the environment, and their integration provides opportunities to build on the synergies between the academic and educational programs of the campus with the state-focused research and outreach programs of the surveys. While creating operational efficiencies, the surveys’ integration with the university also will expand opportunities for collaborative research and access to funding, technology commercialization, experiential learning for Illinois students and programmatic enhancements.

“The state surveys, long a part of our research activities, are truly significant contributors alone and through our joint work with them on issues of energy and sustainability,” said Richard Herman, the chancellor of the Urbana campus. “Notably, the work of the surveys has helped to address real-world problems for the people of the state of Illinois. This is fully in keeping with our land-grant mission, and it makes the University of Illinois the right intellectual home for the surveys.  The governor’s proposed action is most welcome and timely.”

“This institute will combine the world-class expertise of survey and Illinois scientists to provide the collaborative, interdisciplinary research necessary to address our modern, complex environmental problems,” said David Thomas, chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey.

The surveys are supported by $33 million in state funding, comprising $18.5 million in General Revenue Funds and $14 million in contracts with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and other state agencies. More than $12 million of grants and contracts come to the surveys from various federal agencies, foundations and other groups. Approximately 250 staff positions in the surveys are paid through general revenue funds; an additional 320 full-time-equivalent positions and many part-time student employees are funded by grants and contracts.

The proposed transfer, which would take effect July 1, must be approved by the Illinois Legislature and the endorsement of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the U. of I. Board of Trustees and the Urbana-Champaign Senate.

Additional information on the surveys:

Illinois State Geological Survey:
Founded in its modern form in 1905, the ISGS is the largest of the 50 U.S. states’ geological surveys with research focused on environmentally responsible development of Illinois’ energy resources and on three-dimensional geological mapping. A major research contributor to the national and international drive to control carbon dioxide emissions.

Illinois State Natural History Survey: Founded in 1858. Investigates the diversity, life histories and ecology of the state’s plants and animals and beyond; studies diseases of crops and wildlife, invasive species, habitat restoration and other topics; publishes research results so these resources can be managed wisely, and provides information to the public to foster a better understanding of natural resources.

Illinois State Water Survey:
Founded in 1895. Primary agency in Illinois for research and information related to the quantity, quality and use of groundwater, surface water, and atmospheric resources, enabling government agencies, the private sector, not-for-profit organizations and the public to make informed decisions.

Waste Management Research Center
: Founded in 1985, with the mission of pollution prevention and natural resource conservation. The center provides expert and technical assistance in areas such as sustainability, waste minimization, energy efficiency, water purification, developing and testing alternative technologies. WMRC develops beneficial uses for river sediment while restoring habitat where sediment is removed. WMRC also has a program for converting waste oils into biodiesel.