If you have been around the research business long enough, you have seen many research topics, administrative inclinations, and locations come and go. In the early 80’s, I worked for the National Forests in central Oregon.
Most of the research was done, and most of the scientists located, on the wet West Side (WWS) of Oregon. It made sense at the time, as those folks, private and public, were engaged in intensive timber management and wanted to know how to do it right. In addition, the land grant university with responsibility for agriculture and forestry (OSU) was in Corvallis. But that left us with a relative handful of scientists and projects everywhere from Bend to Lakeview to Pendleton. Now, OSU didn’t have an SRUS (a science regional utility standard) that required their research portfolio to be relevant to all parts of the state equally. The east side was a kind of scientific stepchild. At least SW Oregon had the FIR Program, which turned out much helpful information to practitioners in SW Oregon.
I’ll tell a couple of stories about “West-side-itis”. At one time, the Ochoco, Winema, Fremont and Deschutes silviculture folks had a training session with (Drs.) Chad Oliver and Bruce Larsen for a few days at Pringle Falls. I think both may have been at UW (Seattle) at the time. They were both fantastic teachers, especially as a duo. Bruce was rapid-fire, and Chad laid back and Southern, so it made long sessions entertaining as well as informative. They were talking about trees competing for light, and someone asked “how do the models handle it if it is competition for water, not light?” It took a while for them to answer, because in their WWS world, it wasn’t really an important question. I hope you can see my point. If people tend to study and understand what’s around them, in Oregon, the scientific topo lines would have been highest in Corvallis (note that the FS had a big lab there, which made sense, so they could interact with OSU, EPA and other scientists) and gone to zero somewhere between Klamath Falls and Hart Mountain.
One more story. In the early 80’s, an OSU economics prof came out to talk to us, and we met with the Weyerhaeuser folks who also had land in our area. The OSU fellow said that to use the latest science we needed to increase the size of our clearcuts to be more like the Weyco folks. This was, of course, long before (Dr.) Jerry Franklin came up with “big messy clearcuts” so there were the clearcuts that people didn’t like that were then made smaller, but then Jerry thought that big messy ones were better. If we didn’t do it, of course, we weren’t using “the latest science.” Which had been inspired, planned, designed, carried out, and analyzed without our input, and without consideration of (major) differences in the environment. But if you work in an area that folks don’t come out and study, doing things that science funders don’t find to be interesting, can you then be criticized for not having scientific evidence for what you’re doing? Well.. yes.
Of course, research managers have been challenged by declining budgets. But when you think of the closure of the Bend Silviculture Lab or the Macon Fire Sciences Lab, a person has to wonder what geographical diversity and knowledge was lost. Diversity is a good thing, right? At least today, that’s a value. Back in those days, you needed a building, and upkeep, and computer and staff support to have people somewhere. Maybe, especially in today’s virtual society, there’s an argument for locating federal researchers far away from universities and closer to the people working directly with the creatures, people, plants and landscapes or situations they study. Not the least advantage, in my mind, would be to interact more with their practitioner colleagues, and develop a better understanding of what they do and why they do it.
For an excellent history of the ponderosa research on the east side of Oregon, check out this paper by Les Joslin Ponderosa Promise: A History of US Forest Service Research in Central Oregon.