August 26, 2010

Students organizing Cache River symposium

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill -- A group of students in a prestigious doctoral program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is organizing an event that will explore the role the Cache River plays in the area's daily life and future.

The Cache River Symposium is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, at The Gambit Country Club in Vienna. The symposium is free and open to the public, though registration is required.

The students organizing the event are participants in SIUC’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, a $3.2 million effort funded by National Science Foundation that trains future watershed scientists. The highly competitive grant will fund a six-year program at SIUC.

The IGERT program at SIUC -- one of just 20 funded by NSF last year from a pool of more than 400 applicants -- uses a cross-disciplinary approach in giving students a variety of experiences and opportunities.

The first cadre of IGERT students began their work this summer, focusing on the Cache River Watershed. In organizing the event, the students are working with the Cache River Wetlands Joint Venture Partnership, which includes groups such as Ducks Unlimited, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The event will bring together these and other stakeholders in the area to learn about the vital resource and discuss its future. It will include speakers, presentations, a panel discussion and question-answer forums, said Kristen Pitts, an IGERT student.

“What we, as a group, are really hoping to accomplish is to expand communication between researchers, agencies and local community members so as to educate attendees about recent scientific findings as well as concerns regarding restoration and management within the watershed,” Pitts said.

Lizette Chevalier, professor of civil and environmental engineering who is heading the IGERT program at this time, said the students are passing on the knowledge they’ve gained by studying the watershed and river.

“They have increased their understanding of the science, the policies and the people who live and farm this area,” Chevalier said. “This symposium will showcase different aspects of the Cache, increasing awareness of the history and current issues in this unique watershed.”

The keynote speaker for the symposium is Beth Middleton, a wetland ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and a former faculty member at SIUC. Middleton will discuss the unique nature of the Cache River Watershed and how climate change is affecting the system. Middleton is scheduled to speak at 9:15 a.m.

Additional presentations will follow Middleton’s talk. These speakers, starting about 10 a.m., include:

• Heidi Rantala, a post-doctorate fellow in zoology at SIUC

• Jeff Hoover, of the Illinois Natural History Survey

• Mike Demissie or Laura Kiefer, of the Illinois State Water Survey

•Christopher Lant, professor of geography and environmental resources at SIUC

• Ken Chilman, of the group Friends of the Cache

• Karl Williard, professor of forestry at SIUC

•Kaleb Heinric, of SIUC

• Rob Simmonds or Nate Caswell, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

• Mae Davenport, of the University of Minnesota

A panel discussion focusing on the future of the Cache River Watershed will follow the presentations. The panel discussion will run from 2:30 to 4 p.m. and will include local government officials, business leaders, academia and members of the Joint Venture Partnership among others. Panel members confirmed so far include Matt Whiles, professor of zoology at SIUC, as well as Middleton, Davenport, and Tracy Boutelle Fidler, a Cache River Wetlands restoration coordinator.

Following the panel discussion, attendees will have the opportunity to take in research posters and presentations covering a variety of research on the watershed. A barbecue and social gathering, including music by a local band, will end the day. There is a $10 fee for the barbecue gathering, though attending the symposium itself is free of charge.

“The panel discussion will open the floor for people to talk openly about the sustainable future of the Cache, whereas the barbecue social builds in time for people to network and discuss various issues on a more personal level,” Pitts said.

To register for the event, contact IGERT student Alicia Lloyd at 309/212-6708 or To present research, contact IGERT student Amanda Nelson at 314/779-8231 or Online registration also will soon be available at