UGA researchers co-author natural resources roadmap outlining ‘grand challenges’ to U.S.

Athens, Ga. – Two University of Georgia researchers have co-authored a new “roadmap” intended to help prioritize research, education and policy decisions about natural resources in the U.S. The plan outlines six “grand challenges” facing the country’s sustainability, water, climate change, agriculture and education.

This project, which took two years to complete, was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture via a grant to Oregon State University. OSU then partnered with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, which published the roadmap. It can be found online at https://www.aplu.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=2952.

David Stooksbury, an associate professor in the UGA College of Engineering, is one of 35 authors of the roadmap, which was based on feedback from public and land-grant university researchers across the country.

The APLU released a roadmap for agriculture a few years ago, Stooksbury said, and it was clear that a natural resources roadmap was needed. Researchers understand that all the different areas that comprise natural resources do not function independently, he said, and everything is intimately connected-forestry to soils and climate, oceans to land.

“All the natural resources are linked, and that’s one of the difficulties in communicating about natural resources,” Stooksbury said. “Everything is interconnected. Impact one area, and it will impact other areas.”

The 97-page publication documents the six grand challenges facing the country and what the roadmap hopes to accomplish:
• Shape the research, education and outreach approaches for public universities during the next five to 10 years;
• Identify major challenges, knowledge gaps and priorities;
• Give policymakers guidance on future planning;
• Help natural resources agencies and organizations advocate for using science to make decisions about natural resources; and
• Help create research, education and outreach teams from across disciplines that can focus on these challenges.

This roadmap will help guide decisions about allocating resources and research to the highest priority areas, said Rhett Jackson, also a study author, who is a hydrologist and climatologist in the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

“The roadmap process gathered together top natural resource experts from the land-grant university system to identify focus areas for natural resource management and research programs,” he said. “In the water group, the consistency in priority issues identified by the members was remarkable.”

The roadmap identified the six “grand challenges” facing the U.S.’s natural resources as:
Sustainability: The need to conserve and manage natural landscapes and maintain environmental quality while optimizing renewable resource productivity to meet increasing human demands for natural resources, particularly with respect to increasing water, food and energy demands;
Water: The need to restore, protect and conserve watersheds for biodiversity, water resources, pollution reduction and water security;
Climate change: The need to understand the impacts of climate change on our environment, including such aspects as disease transmission, air quality, water supply, ecosystems, fire, species survival and pest risk. Further, a comprehensive strategy is needed for managing natural resources to adapt to climate change;
Agriculture: The need to develop a sustainable, profitable and environmentally responsible agriculture industry;
Energy: The need to identify new and alternative renewable energy sources and improve the efficiency of existing renewable resource-based energy to meet increasing energy demands while reducing the ecological footprint of energy production and consumption; and
Education: The need to maintain and strengthen natural resources education at schools at all levels in order to have the informed citizenry, civic leaders and practicing professionals needed to sustain the natural resources of the U.S.

Stooksbury said he also hopes this will help put a focus on implementing natural resources-related education into elementary, middle and high schools, because although programs such as 4-H and the National FFA Organization have been beneficial, “there are still not a large number of opportunities outside of the classroom to learn about natural resources.”