Jump to main navigation. Jump to main content

Susan Galatowitsch Named 2007-2008 Fesler-Lampert Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs

Photo of Susan Galatowitsch

Susan Galatowitsch, 2007-2008 Fesler-Lampert Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs

June 5, 2007
Contact person: 

Susan Galatowitsch, professor of restoration ecology in the Department of Horticultural Science, has been named the 2007–2008 Fesler-Lampert Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs. Galatowitsch’s appointment, announced this past May, was made by the vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, Gail Dubrow, based on recommendations from CURA’s nominating committee. In making the announcement, Dubrow praised Galatowitsch’s focus on restoration science and the connections to public policy as “timely and especially appropriate for the Fesler-Lampert Chair.”

The Fesler-Lampert Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs is one of four endowed chairs and two named professorships made possible through a generous contribution to the University of Minnesota by David and Elizabeth (B.J.) Fesler. The Fesler-Lampert Endowment in Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies was initially established in 1985 to stimulate interdisciplinary research and teaching through the appointment of distinguished, broadly learned scholars to endowed faculty positions at the University of Minnesota.

Galatowitsch’s research to date has focused primarily on smaller scale wetland ecosystem restoration projects and methods for re-establishing native plant populations, controlling invasive plant species, and analyzing related wildlife habitat loss and recovery. However, Galatowitsch believes there is a critical need to “scale up” the size of restoration projects. For one thing, growing concerns about global climate change and related interest in cellulose-based biofuel production potentially could involve large-scale restoration of Minnesota’s tallgrass prairies. In addition, restoration of some sensitive ecosystems—such as the bottomland hardwood forests along the Upper Mississippi River—are inherently large endeavors that require different restoration approaches. “Ecosystem restoration practice has developed over the past few decades largely through trial and error on small tracts of land,” Galatowitsch explains. “For restoration to be part of global change and a renewable fuels strategy, we have to be able to successfully revegetate hundreds of thousands of acres of forests, grasslands, and wetlands.”

The resources provided by her appointment as Fesler-Lampert Chair will allow Galatowitsch and her research team to focus on several related projects that will advance understanding of landscape-scale restoration projects in the Midwest. The first project involves collecting and analyzing data from a long-term study of restorations sponsored under the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a program that rewarded farmers for retiring marginal agricultural land from crop production. In one of the largest and longest-running studies of its kind, Galatowitsch and her colleagues have been tracking 64 CRP restoration projects in the southern prairie pothole region of Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota—once home to tallgrass prairie, but now dominated by corn fields—since 1988. This summer, they will survey participating landowners enrolled in CRP and conduct field surveys of the restoration sites to evaluate the success of the projects. Information gathered from this study can potentially help decision makers to make informed choices about corn-based versus cellulose-based biofuel production, both by isolating the key factors to successful large-scale tallgrass prairie restoration projects and by identifying what factors affect landowner decisions to participate in long-term conservation programs like CRP. This information is particularly important in light of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent decision to relax restrictions on CRP unenrollment, allowing farmers to convert CRP land back to cropland to maximize corn production for biofuels.

A second project Galatowitsch and her colleagues will pursue involves restoration of bottomland hardwood forests along the Upper Mississippi River. Among other things, these forests provide crucial habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. However, many of these forests are succumbing to canary reed grass, a particularly noxious invasive plant species that chokes out trees and inhibits forest regeneration, potentially threatening the loss of these precious natural resources. Although the factors that contribute to reed canary grass invasion are well understood, effective management practices for bottomland hardwood forests are difficult to identify because of the many variables and contingencies present in such large ecosystems. With additional funding from the U.S. Geologic Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Galatowitsch and her team will work with resource managers from 10 wildlife preserves along the Mississippi, Minnesota, and Missouri Rivers to identify successful management practices using an iterative “adaptive management” framework that identifies, field tests, and refines management practices while accounting for the contingencies of large-scale restoration efforts.

Finally, Galatowitsch will use funds from her Fesler-Lampert appointment to support a science and public policy forum on “Ecosystem Restoration in an Era of Climate Change” this fall. Designed to mark the tenth anniversary of the Spring Peeper Meadow wetland restoration project that Galatowitsch helped complete at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the forum will focus on how to approach landscape restoration in light of the challenges posed by global climate change. Most restoration projects in Minnesota (and elsewhere) are premised on restoring what was on the site immediately prior to human conversion of the land in the 1800s, an approach Galatowitsch describes as “potentially misguided” given the ecological effects of global climate change since that time. In addition, restoration ecologists have not adequately examined the best way to facilitate the movement of plants and animals with limited mobility as climate change renders their existing habitats unsuitable. Although the “wildlife corridor” approach is currently favored by conservation organizations, other alternatives—such as physically moving organisms from their current location to more favorable locations in restored ecosystems—have received little attention. The forum would offer an opportunity for scientists and policy makers to discuss issues at the interface of conservation and climate change mitigation.

Susan Galatowitsch joins a distinguished list of University faculty who have held the Fesler-Lampert Chair in recent years, including Katherine Fennelly from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; Myron Orfield of the School of Law; Ann Markusen of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; Patrick Brezonik of the Department of Civil Engineering; Eugene Borgida of the Department of Psychology; Dennis Ahlburg, formerly of the Department of Industrial Relations and now dean of the University of Colorado School of Business; and John Adams of the Department of Geography.

The Fesler-Lampert Endowment is intended as a tribute to David Fesler’s grandfathers, Bert Fesler and Jacob Lampert. The Fesler-Lampert Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs is appointed for a one-year period and receives approximately $40,000 for research, salary, and logistical support. The funds are jointly administered by the University of Minnesota Foundation and the University of Minnesota.