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State budget cuts to impact research facility

January 3, 2012

The gate is closed and locked at the White Mountain Research Station, Owens Valley Laboratory east of Bishop. Budget cuts have forced the station to plan partial closures for some of the facilities and a possible end to the popular Thursday night lecture series. Photo by Mike Bodine

A weak economy and state budget cuts have taken a chunk out of state libraries, prisons and education and now, local science and research.
The White Mountain Research Station, a staple of high-altitude related research and of the Owens Valley since 1950, has announced plans for a partial closure of some of its facilities.
Some year-round employees are being laid off for the winter and some full-time staff will be reduced to 50 percent, according to WMRS personnel.
The well attended Thursday night lecture series and the Barcroft Open House may be on the chopping block as well.
Dr. Frank Powell, the station director and high-altitude researcher, said in a press release that there is guaranteed funding for the facility for the next few years and there is the possibility of a new parent university. But, the 2012 season will be drastically different from years’ past.
The station has been operating since 1948 in the White Mountains. The station actually consists of four facilities – the Owens Valley Laboratory east of Bishop and three facilities in the White Mountains: one at Crooked Creek, the Nello Pace Laboratory Barcroft Station and a small hut on the summit of White Mountain itself, the fourth-highest altitude research station in the world.
The facilities are used for a variety of uses, from living space for geology majors for a couple weeks or so in the summer, to long-term research projects on subjects that include high-altitude physiology and tree ring studies on the ancient Bristlecone pine trees.
Researchers at WMRS have won the Noble Prize and a documentary about the station has won an Emmy.
WMRS is also unique in that it is a free-agent within the University of California system, with a different university taking over as manager every decade or so.
Currently, UC San Diego is in charge. Powell said that UC Los Angeles Institute for the Environment and Sustainability is looking at taking the station under its wing.
“Naturally, switching to a new campus will necessarily bring about some reorganization,” Powell said.
Until a solid funding source is obtained, said one WMRS employee, the facility will be partially closed. As to exactly what part of the facility will be closed is still uncertain, said the employee, but a plan has been released.
“WMRS is planning to partially shut down its Owens Valley facility this winter and spring, closing the dormitory and kitchen facilities,” according to a press release. “The 2012 summer operations at the upper stations (Crooked Creek and Barcroft) are anticipated to be normal, but operations at the Owens Valley facility may remain curtailed.”
A notice to station users on its website, wmrs.edu, states that the facility in Bishop will be closed from January to May and perhaps the rest of 2012. The Crooked Creek and Barcroft facilities could have a shortened season.
“Most important, WMRS has been assured an operating budget for the next several years and will continue its mission of supporting research and education in the White Mountains and surrounding areas,” Powell said.
The station not only provides facilities but also grant money. No applications are currently being accepted for the WMRS Graduate Student Minigrant Program. According to its website, the fate of that program has yet to be decided.
And the free lecture series that offers visiting and local scientists a forum to share their work and findings with the community is on hold for this year. “At this time the fates of the popular Thursday night public lecture series and the equally popular Barcroft Open House have not been determined for 2012,” Powell said.
Those interested in the series are asked to check the station’s website for updates.
For more information, go to www.wmrs.edu.

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