The Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit opened in October 1991 at Kansas State University in Manhattan. The opening of the Unit was the culmination of several years of hard work by the university, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Dr. Robert Robel, KSU Division of Biology, was instrumental in bringing the Unit to Kansas State. Congressional approval of the Kansas Unit was passed with the assistance of Kansas Senators Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum.
Dr. Timothy R. Modde was appointed as the first Unit Leader of the Kansas Coop Unit. Ms. Joyce Brite was hired as support staff. The Unit was located on the second floor of Leasure Hall in rooms formerly used as labs by the Division of Biology.
The dedication ceremony for the Kansas Coop Unit was held April 16, 1992. The ceremony was jointly organized by Gwen Williams, Cooperative Research Units, Tim Lindemuth, Kansas State University, and Joyce Brite, Kansas Coop Unit. Participants in the joint ribbon-cutting included Assistant Secretary of the Interior Mike Hayden, representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Secretary Jack Lacey, and Robert Kruh, Vice Provost for Academic Services, Kansas State University. An Environmental Issues Forum was held after the ribbon-cutting. The panel featured Assistant Secretary of Interior Mike Hayden, Deputy Secretary of Interior Frank Bracken, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director John Turner, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Directors John D. Buffington and Galen Buterbaugh.
In May 1992, Dr. Modde left the Unit to take a position with the Colorado River Fisheries Project, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in Vernal, Utah. During the summer of 1992, Dr. Michael R. Vaughan of the Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit was assigned to the Kansas Unit as Acting Unit Leader for a six-week period. After Dr. Vaughan returned to Virginia, Joyce Brite remained with the KSCFWRU, fulfilling federal reporting commitments for the Unit. In fall 1992, the search process was begun for a new Unit Leader. Dr. Charles Berry from the South Dakota Unit assisted with the interviews for the search. Dr. Philip S. Gipson with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in Hyattsville, Maryland was selected as Unit Leader. He started work at the Kansas Unit in May 1993.
Shortly after Dr. Gipson started at the Kansas Unit, searches were initiated in Fall 1993 to fill the two Assistant Unit Leader positions. Dr. Christopher S. Guy was hired as Assistant Leader-Fisheries and Dr. Jack F. Cully, Jr. was hired as Assistant Leader-Wildlife. Both started work in early 1994.
With all the personnel positions filled, renovation of the Kansas Unit facilities began soon thereafter. A large room that had previously been used as a lab storeroom by the Division of Biology was divided into offices for the Assistant Unit Leaders and a visiting scientist. Those offices were also repainted and carpeted. The Coop Unit’s main office was also painted and carpeted. Two other rooms had their laboratory facilities removed and were turned into office space. The walk-in cooler at the west end of the second floor was removed and converted into a mail, copier and office supply room.
For the first few years, the Kansas Coop Unit was part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1994, the Unit was transferred to the new National Biological Survey, later renamed the National Biological Service, within the Department of the Interior.
That same year, the Kansas Unit was honored with a visit by then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and then-Kansas Governor Joan Finney. The purpose of the visit was to sign a proclamation creating task force for a partnership between the State of Kansas and the National Biological Survey, federal natural resource agencies, participating universities and conservation groups. The purpose of the partnership was to provide greater access to information necessary to manage the state’s biological resources. This included identifying research needs and securing funding, creation of a list of Kansas biological data bases and collections, identifying current information on principal biological Kansas resources in terms of genetic, species, and ecological community, describing and presenting the information in a report format.
On April 28, 1994, Governor Finney and Secretary Babbitt arrived at the KS Coop Unit. They were given a tour of Unit facilities and Secretary Babbitt spoke briefly to students, faculty and cooperators. The entire group then moved over to the Little Theater in the Student Union for the signing ceremony. Secretary Babbitt gave a short talk on the partnership before the signing.
The first Unit graduate student was Eric Arnold. He was joined shortly thereafter by William Smith and Matthew McCoy. The three of them conducted a joint research study on the ecology of ring-necked pheasant in association with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands. The Principal Investigator for the Kansas Unit was Dr. Phil Gipson. Dr. Kevin Church from KDWP served as collaborator.
William Smith was the first student to graduate through the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit program. Bill received his Master’s degree in 1996. His thesis was titled, “Responses of Ring-necked Pheasants to Conservation Reserve Program fields during courtship and brood rearing in the high plains.” The first fisheries student graduated a short time later. Jennifer Wiens received her Master’s degree under the direction of Dr. Chris Guy. Her thesis was titled, “Effects of tree revetments on the abiotic and biotic components in two Kansas streams.”
The first student to complete a degree under the direction of Dr. Jack Cully was Heidi Michaels. Her thesis was titled, “Landscape and fine scale habitat of the Loggerhead Shrike and Henslow's Sparrow on Fort Riley Military Reservation, Kansas.” The first student to receive a Ph.D. through the Kansas Coop Unit was Patrick Braaten in 2000. Pat Braaten’s dissertation was titled, “Growth of fishes in the Missouri River and Lower Yellowstone River, and factors influencing recruitment of freshwater drum in the lower channelized Missouri River” and his advisor was Dr. Guy.
In 1995, the Outstanding Coop Student of the Year award was initiated. Jennifer Wiens was selected as the first Outstanding Student.
The number of research projects grew quickly in the first few years of the Kansas Unit. Funding was obtained through state, federal and private sources.
The first Research Work Order (RWO) for the Kansas Unit was, “Abundance and Nesting Success of Neotropical Migrants Breeding in the Tallgrass Prairie” funded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Principal Investigator was Dr. John L. Zimmerman of the KSU Division of Biology.
The first research project funded by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks was, “The ecology of ring-necked pheasant in association with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands.”
The Kansas Unit has been involved in several large research projects. One of the early projects studied various aspects along the 2,341-mile long Missouri River. This was a multi-year, multi-state study also included the Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota and Montana Coop Units. The Kansas portion of the study under the direction of Dr. Chris Guy focused on “Population structure and habitat use of benthic fishes along the Missouri and Lower Yellowstone Rivers.”
Another extensive study was “GAP Analysis in Kansas” under the direction of Dr. Jack Cully. The mission of the Gap Analysis Program (GAP) is to provide regional assessment of the conservation status of the native vertebrate species and natural land cover types and to facilitate the application of this information to land management activities. This assessment was made by mapping the land cover in Kansas and predicting the distribution of vertebrate species. These findings were then documented and provided to the public.
The Range Training Lands Assessment (RTLA) study was a long-term study to assess the impacts of repeated military vehicle disturbances on plant, animal, and soil communities to determine indicators of non-intervention sustainability and develop ecological models at the local ecosystem level. Statistical models were then developed and the models verified by the use of the monitoring data.
The Kansas Unit has had one international research project, ‘The Ecological Role of the Bush Dog, Speothos venaticus, as Part of the Mammalian Predator Community in the Interior Atlantic Forest of Paraguay,” conducted by Gerald Zuercher.
Graduates of the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit include Dr. Michael C. Quist, now Assistant Unit Leader-Fisheries at the Idaho Unit, and Dr. Patrick Braaten, Research Fish Biologist with the USGS Columbia (MO) Environmental Research Center.
The Unit Leader and the Assistant Unit Leaders are faculty members in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University. Graduate students associated with the Unit are part of the Division of Biology and graduate degrees are awarded through the Division. Unit staff and students often work on partnership projects that involve specialists from the University and other cooperating groups.
Dr. Guy left in August 2002 to become Assistant Leader-Fisheries at the Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit in Bozeman. In November 2003, Dr. Craig P. Paukert joined the Kansas Unit as Assistant Leader-Fisheries.
In May 2008, Dr. Philip S. Gipson retired from the Kansas Unit. He accepted a position as department head at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Dr. Craig P. Paukert was appointed as Acting Unit Leader.
In June 2010, Dr. Craig Paukert accepted the position of Unit Leader at the Missouri Unit. Dr. Martha Mather transferred to the Kansas Unit from the Massachusetts Unit.
A search for a new Unit Leader was conducted in fall 2010 and Dr. David A. Haukos was selected. Dr. Haukos transferred from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Lubbock, TX. He also served as faculty at Texas Tech University.
In December 2017 Joyce Brite retired. Maiah Diel joined the unit in January 2018 as the new Administrative Specialist/Office Manager for the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.