U.S. Forest Service Laboratory upgraded to improve and expand forestry and water quality research in the region
For decades, people have driven past the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station laboratory on Highway K without really knowing what research was taking place inside.
That changed Friday, as the Forest Service opened the doors.
People were invited to a ribbon cutting, see the lab improvements, and talk with scientists about their research.
Dr. Cynthia West says that research is critical for the years ahead as people deal with more extreme weather patterns, struggles with water resources, and works to clean up man-made pollution.
West is the director of the Northern Research Station and National Forest Products Lab. Her region covers Minnesota to Maine south to Maryland and back west to Missouri.
“Within this 20-state geographic footprint, we are the most heavily forested region in the US Forest Service and the most heavily populated. And within this region, we have the most water resources. You put those combos together, given the increasing temperatures, significant drought, and high fire potential in other parts of the country, it makes the future of this region look very bright and extraordinarily valuable,” said Dr. West.
The high concentration of water and forests in the Northwoods makes this a good base for research.
Ronald Zalesny is a supervisory research plant geneticist. He’s in charge of phytotechnologies research.
“Phytotechnologies is the use of plants to solve environmental problems,” he said.
One example is trying to use plants to remove chemicals like PFAS from soil and water.
“Regardless of where you are in the world there is pollution and there is a need to clean that pollution The technologies we’re developing are directly relevant to cleaning that pollution. I think that’s a big message, is that it’s not just this bubble here in the Midwest and in Northern Wisconsin but everywhere throughout the world,” said Zalesny.
Recent upgrades were made to the molecular genetics’ laboratory and the ‘wet lab’ for aquatic research.
Zalesny says investments in research technology are important for several reasons.
It attracts research partners, increases the quality and quantity of data they can collect, and allows researchers to make their work more applicable to the general public.
“We have research going on that hits all aspects of ecology. We have water, soils, the terrestrial ecosystems, so plants in addition to mammals and other wildlife. We’re really taking a holistic approach here in Rhinelander so that we can develop technologies that are beneficial to the entire ecosystem and the environment,” Zalesny.
Funding for the upgrades comes from the Great American Outdoor Act passed in 2020.