Science for All: Private Support Spurs New Programs at Bio Station

Check out the slideshow of 4 items below:

  • Slide Title: FLARE is the Flathead Lake Bio Station's K-12 outreach program
  • Slide Title: FLARE is the Flathead Lake Bio Station's K-12 outreach program
  • Slide Title: FLARE is the Flathead Lake Bio Station's K-12 outreach program
  • Slide Title: FLARE is the Flathead Lake Bio Station's K-12 outreach program

The Flathead Lake Biological Station is one of the jewels of the University of Montana system. Since 1899, the Bio Station has been the “Sentinel of the Lake,” monitoring water quality and advancing science that supports conservation and protection of the Flathead watershed.

Generous donors have helped fuel this work. Over the last several decades, grants and private support have been key to innovation and growth of both research and education programs.

This year, exceptional gifts from committed donors have launched two new and exciting programs.

Inspiring the Next Generation

The kids crowd around Monica Elser, eager to see the microscopic plankton magnified on the large TV screen. Their class is on a field trip at the Flathead Lake Biological Station, where they’re exploring the tiny creatures that live in the lake’s water.

A digital microscope, purchased with grant funding, is making this moment possible.

“It’s pretty exciting for them to see something small so big,” says Elser. “They can see its eye twitching and its little antennae going.”

Elser is the education liaison to the Bio Station. Thanks to a generous $500,000 gift from Gretchen and Edward Heffernan, she and Education Coordinator Holly Church are reinvigorating the station’s K-12 education program.

The Flathead Lake Aquatic Research and Education Program – or FLARE – brings students to the Bio Station for hands-on activities, brings FLBS educators to local classrooms and trains teachers on thoughtful ways to incorporate FLBS science into their classes. Curriculum focuses on lake ecology and ecosystems, and is designed to meet Montana state science standards. FLARE aims to make science engaging, and to help young people understand the lake and their local environment.

“I hope that this program will get kids excited about science, excited about preserving the world and excited about education in general,” says Gretchen Heffernan.

With the Heffernans’ gift, Elser hopes to purchase additional equipment, like more digital microscopes, and create new lessons around microbial ecology, one of the Bio Station’s areas of expertise.

Aside from serving more students and teachers, Elser says that the gift “opens up lots of opportunities for us to leverage support from other organizations or grant sources.”

That means the future looks bright – for the Bio Station, and for the next generation.

Law and Science

“Anybody who spends any time in the Northwest understands the beauty of clean and healthy water, which is why it’s in our best interest to preserve it for future generations.”

That’s Monte Beck ’75, JD ’79, an attorney at Beck, Amsden & Stalpes, PLLC in Bozeman. Beck grew up in Anaconda, where he saw firsthand the degradation of industry on the landscape and the community. For years, toxins from mining and smelting operations saturated the ground and flowed into the headwaters of the Clark Fork River.

“I have this memory of the fish kills that happened during the spring run-offs in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where thousands of fish were belly up,” he says. Heavy metals had poisoned the water.

As a trial lawyer, he has represented many clients in environmental contamination cases. His passion for the cause has grown with time, and he noticed both a problem and an opportunity. Lawyers trying environmental or natural resource cases need to have a deep understanding of the science involved to frame their arguments and hire the best experts to navigate complex evidence. Yet not many environmental lawyers have a science background.

“How great would it be if you had a background in science in a way that you could assimilate it into a legal case?” says Beck.

He came to the Bio Station with an idea: bring in law students as interns. Have them spend a summer learning how research is designed, data collected, analyses conducted and conclusions reached. Understand science’s potential and limitations in policy making and legal actions, and learn how to interpret data on their own.

Through a generous gift, Beck established the first summer legal internship in the Bio Station’s history. Beck believes it may be the only such internship in the country.

The goal is not only to teach lawyers about science, but also to help scientists understand the law. The interns will be a resource for Bio Station faculty to help them learn how research is used in the courtroom. Ultimately, for Beck it comes down to protecting a landscape that so many cherish.

“We have such a beautiful place to live – why not try to protect it?”

Join the Bio Station at its annual open house on Friday, August 3 from 1:00 – 5:00 pm to learn more about this and other science research and programs. Visit flbs.umt.edu for more info.