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UM to Administer Montana Natural Heritage Program

Administrators at The University of Montana took over management of the Montana Natural Heritage Program on July 1, 2006. The program had been administered by The Nature Conservancy.

Based at the Montana State Library in Helena, the Natural Heritage Program is the state’s source for information on the status and distribution of native animals and plants -- especially species of concern and important habitats such as wetlands. Its 18-member staff collects, validates and distributes information while helping natural resource managers and others use this knowledge effectively. The Montana Legislature established Natural Heritage Program in 1983 as part of the State Library, and the Library has contracted with The Nature Conservancy and now UM to manage the program.

“After 20 years of growing a strong Natural Heritage Program, The Nature Conservancy was pleased to turn it over to a state institution,” MTNHP Director Susan Crispin said. “In a way, it’s a gift from the Conservancy to the people of Montana.”

The Nature Conservancy in Montana has worked with landowners and other partners to conserve a half-million acres of wildlife habitat and ranchland in the state since 1979, but Crispin said the organization’s primary focus on land conservation made it hard to focus on support for the Natural Heritage Program. “As part of this transition we wanted the Program to become affiliated with a stable, established state institution that has a strong commitment to science and research, so UM was a logical choice and is a great fit for us,” she said.

The Natural Heritage Program now is managed by UM’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Development. Crispin said this new arrangement offers her organization strong growth potential, as well as opportunities for collaborations with UM researchers. “The University of Montana is very excited about the Natural Heritage Program joining the UM family,” said Dan Dwyer, the University’s vice president for research and development. “We look forward to collaborating with the Montana State Library to continue to build this very strong and valuable program.”

The Montana Natural Heritage Program is part of a network of over 70 similar programs spanning all 50 U.S. states, as well as Canada and Latin America. Montana’s program is widely considered one of the best, Crispin said, citing her organization’s recent International Award for Technological Advancement.

In addition to providing information on Montana’s native species and habitats, the program’s staff of expert biologists also conducts field surveys. Among the interesting projects underway right now are surveys of amphibians and bats and a study of wetland changes along the Yellowstone River.

For more information about MTNHP and to tap into its wealth of information on Montana animals, plants and ecosystems, visit the program’s Web site at mtnhp.org.

Contact: Director, Montana Natural Heritage Program, 406-444-3019 or Dan Dwyer, UM Vice President for Research and Development, 406-243-6670.

from UM News and Events Calendar, University of Montana, July 18, 2006