Samford University and the Alabama chapter of the Nature Conservancy have joined efforts to further conservation planning, environmental education and stewardship efforts throughout the state.
In a unique partnership, biology students in Samford's Geographical Information Systems (GIS) program will create GIS maps of conservation sites around the state for use by the Conservancy.
The maps will display topography, natural communities, rare species populations, soils, geology and other key components of natural areas. The data will enhance the Conservancy's capacity to gather and manage key biological and land information in order to guide conservation decision making.
"This is an exciting partnership for Samford and the Conservancy," said Chris Oberholster, Director of Conservation Planning and Stewardship for the Conservancy's Alabama chapter. "This project will provide Samford students hands-on training and experience in environmental management, GIS and conservation planning, while providing the Conservancy with strategic information that is critical to our protection efforts."
The partnership is a "win-win situation" for both parties, says Samford biology professor Dr. Paul Blanchard, who serves as project coordinator.
"Samford students will have opportunities to confront real-world ecological and biological challenges through interaction with the Conservancy's holdings which will act as 'living classrooms,'" said Blanchard. "This type of education is totally consistent with the biology department's strong commitment to holistic, problem-based learning."
Maps will be created for all 16 Conservancy preserves in Alabama, including the high priority Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Paint Rock River and Talladega Mountains, which have bee deemed critical for protection.
The first focus, beginning this fall, will be the Conservancy's properties in the area of Little Cahaba River. The project will involve students in Samford's field zoology, plant taxonomy, biological sciences and GIS environmental courses.