EWU & Turnbull: A History of Restoration

By Bart Mihailovich

It’s been 15,000 years since the great ice-age floods scoured eastern Washington and created one of the most geologically diverse and unique bioregions in the world. Today, a huge chunk of that channeled scabland is home to an equally unique partnership between a state university and a national wildlife refuge.

The long-standing relationship between Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge and Eastern Washington University is unlike any other in the nation. A mere 10 minutes from the main campus in Cheney, Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a site maintained by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  It encompasses approximately 18,217 acres and features a combination of basalt outcrops, flood-eroded channels and ponderosa pine forests. Marshes, lakes and wetlands are in abundance. Wildlife enjoy some 200 acres of aspen riparian areas, 10,000 acres of ponderosa pine forest and 4,000 acres of prairie. More than 200 bird species call Turnbull home, including several waterfowl species, marsh birds, shorebirds and songbirds. Additionally, 45 species of mammals, including 11 species of bats, Rocky Mountain elk, moose, cougar, badgers, beaver and flying squirrels occupy Turnbull, as do 12 reptile and amphibian species, 51 species of butterfly and a multitude of invertebrates,  which Turnbull is working to catalog.

But Turnbull is also home to EWU. Since 1976, Eastern, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has operated a 4,600-square-foot facility on the refuge that includes a classroom and research laboratories. Known as the Turnbull Laboratory for Ecological Studies, it’s the only university-run lab on a national wildlife refuge, and both EWU and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service take full advantage of it and the many great research opportunities it provides. Work centers on three key areas: wildlife habitat relationships, invasive species and elk management. “It’s a very strong relationship,” said Refuge Manager Dan Matiatos, who has been at Turnbull for more than three years. “We feel privileged in having this close of a relationship right next door. It’s been built upon for many years, and with the important and relevant work we’ve done in the past and continue to do, we look forward to many more.”

At its core, this unique relationship between Turnbull and EWU is a partnership built on shared resources. EWU students and faculty have the advantage of having a nearby living, breathing ecosystem to conduct studies, research and observations, and Turnbull benefits from having students and faculty conduct studies that assist the refuge in developing objectives or furthering research.

Margaret O’Connell, professor and chair of the Biology Department, rattled off a laundry list of projects, both past and current, that she, her colleagues and their students have worked on for more than 20 years.

“There are so many ongoing projects, not to mention past projects, that the refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were interested in doing but didn’t have the full resources to do justice to,” said O’Connell. “So it’s great that we can provide students an opportunity to fulfill the needs of the refuge while also furthering their own studies and careers.”

THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM ‘DISCOVERE, THE RESEARCH MAGAZINE OF EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY.’ CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING THE FULL STORY SURROUNDING THE SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EASTERN AND TURNBULL.