Aspen Field Biology Laboratory enters new phase |

Aspen Field Biology Laboratory enters new phase

Catherine Lutz

A biology research center founded and directed by the late Bob Lewis will continue under the leadership of his daughter and an eight-member board. And if funding comes through, a new research facility is slated to be built next year.The future of the Aspen Field Biology Laboratory was unclear when Lewis – a longtime local environmentalist, scientist and teacher – died at age 84 in late July. Founded to aid environmental planning through scientific research of the Elk Mountain bioregion, the laboratory received the IRS’s charitable organization status in 1993 and started sponsoring studies last year.Lewis was heavily involved in planning for the new research facility, to be built on his two-acre property east of Aspen near the North Star Nature Preserve. A building permit had been secured, and construction was to start this summer but was disrupted by Lewis’ death.The Aspen Field Biology Laboratory’s board met after Lewis’ death to discuss what to do about the organization, which has thus far taken on two projects – a study of owls in 2004 and an ongoing stream health initiative.Dismantling the organization was not an option, and continuing to headquarter Aspen Field Biology Laboratory on Lewis’ property was a natural choice.”This is the only property in the area that has not changed since the time of the glaciers,” said Fadia Middlebrook, the laboratory’s associate director and registrar. “We’re proud to share the magic of Bob’s property, which is what he would have wanted, and to keep it that way. So that it’s not just this generation that can have that resource but future generations, as well.”Current plans are to break ground on the new lab next summer, which is dependent on raising $700,000 more for the building. Fund raising will also continue for programming. Lewis’ home, which has until now served as the office and lab, will continue to be its headquarters and could host one visiting scientist.The new building would house a research center, five work stations, a meeting area and additional work space. It would also have three separate living areas for up to six visiting scientists. Aspen Field Biology Laboratory’s mission includes hosting experts in various biological fields to put together studies that are then used by environmental and land-use planners for the area. The problem now, according to Middlebrook, is that “everybody does their own thing, and nobody shares their stuff. In order to bring solutions, we have to bring these entities together, and AFBL is that.”Lewis’ daughter, Katie Etienne, is moving back from California to direct the lab. A scientist by training herself, Etienne is currently research coordinator for Audubon Canyon Ranch and was Aspen Field Biology Laboratory’s co-president. In September, the laboratory will host biologist Lynn Margulis, who is conducting a study on a potential new species in Conundrum Hot Springs. Another scientist is scheduled for next summer; in the planning (and fund-raising) stages are research projects on bark beetles, wasting disease, whirling disease and a new fungus that is devastating parts of Colorado.”The impact of AFBL is much greater than the building’s small footprint,” Middlebrook said. “But it’s such a magical place. What better place to bring scientists to converse and share their findings?”

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