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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Cottonwood Heights resident heads unique research facility near Moab

Jul 30, 2019 03:01PM ● By Josh Wood

Certified bird bander Mike Ford teaching students at Bonderman Field Station. (Zachary Lundeen, used by permission)

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

University of Utah researcher and Cottonwood Heights resident Dr. Zachary Lundeen helps provide a unique environmental experience for researchers, educators and students. As director of the University’s Bonderman Field Station near Moab, Lundeen coordinates opportunities for people with diverse interests to work and learn on the Colorado Plateau.

“What the property offers is basically a big outdoor laboratory where we have researchers and educators in an ideal setting,” Lundeen said. “We have community and educational users involved in these research efforts.”

The Bonderman Field Station at Rio Mesa supports a wide range of academic pursuits, from geology and other earth sciences to the arts and humanities. The field station is intended to promote greater understanding of the area’s ecology, the environment in general, and interaction humans have with their environment.

While a lot of the activity that takes place at field stations like Bonderman focus on environmental science, the station also incorporates the arts. Writers and visual artists travel to the facility to be inspired by the surrounding environment and to capture its essence in their work.

“It’s a multiuse, multipurpose facility for scientists, artists and writers to work in a less traditional academic setting,” Lundeen said.

Lundeen is a research assistant professor with the geography department at the University of Utah. He is also the director of the Bonderman Field Station at Rio Mesa, which is about 40 miles northeast of Moab and includes facilities for academic activities and lodging for visiting groups. The field station was gifted to the University of Utah by David Bonderman for research, education and other scholarly pursuits.

Lundeen coordinates activities for visiting researchers, educators and students. The facility helps inspire environmental scholarship with its unique setting and opportunities to spend time out in the red rock desert. “Sitting around the campfire facilitates questions and helps students feel more comfortable talking with educators,” Lundeen said.

Among the opportunities the Bonderman Field Station offers is for students and community groups to get involved in environmental research. Groups typically visit for two or three days, participating in activities that correspond to their interests and the work of researchers who are onsite at the time. Students help with research and learn about the environment.

“It’s amazing how few of the students have spent time outdoors,” Lundeen said. “It’s a way for them to get out and experience the solitude of the red rock environment. It feels like it’s a million miles away, but it’s still a comfortable place.”

Lundeen works to pair visiting groups with research projects that fit their interests. When students and community groups participate in research work, they help with important functions like collecting samples. In the process, they learn about the surrounding area and the topics the researchers are exploring. The citizen science opportunities at the field station help move research along.

Most of Bonderman’s educational visitors spend at least one morning at the site’s bird banding station to learn what the bird banders do and to watch them take measurements. Mike Ford, a certified bird bander from South Africa, has been the lead bird bander at Bonderman Field Station for a few seasons. “Mike shows the kids how he identifies the bird species and gender, how he holds them so they won’t get hurt,” Lundeen said.

The Bonderman Field Station is one in a network of University of Utah field stations and research areas. Others include the Taft-Nicholson Center in Montana’s Centennial Valley, which is part of the University’s College of Humanities, and the Willard L. Eccles Observatory on Frisco Peak. Other research and educational facilities include the Range Creek Field Station in Central Utah, which is part of the Natural History Museum of Utah, and the Red Butte Canyon research area.

The Bonderman Field Station stands out with its offering of diverse research and educational uses. One of its ongoing projects is a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management focusing on native plants and understanding interactions between native and invasive plants.

Meanwhile, Lundeen continues to find new opportunities for community outreach. “I am working to create more opportunities for people in the community to come out to Bonderman.”