Skip to main content
The University of Massachusetts Amherst

New Federal Investment in CASC Networks Yields Changes in NE CASC Footprint and Personnel

Thursday, September 2, 2021
NE CASC Full Map


The CASC Network Realignment

The past year has been an exciting time for both NE CASC specifically and the CASC network more broadly. Propelled by a doubling of federal funding for the national CASC program, the U.S. Geological Survey has spent recent months pursuing its plan to establish a new regional CASC in the Midwest.

With the creation of the Midwest CASC (MW CASC), the geographical footprint for NE CASC has changed. Eight states that were previously part of the Northeast region now constitute the Midwest region. These states include: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Accordingly, the Northeast region has been redrawn and now encompasses the following fourteen states: Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

Commenting on these changes, NE CASC Founding University Director Richard Palmer recently said that “it is impossible to overstate just how positive this development is” for both the CASC network and the Northeast CASC. “The increased investment in the CASC program will lead to the delivery of more actionable climate adaptation science across the U.S.,” Palmer observed. “And the creation of a new geographical footprint for NE CASC will allow our team to serve our vibrant community of partners and stakeholders even better than we already have. This additional investment in the CASC program will bring unprecedented momentum to CASC initiatives.”  


Personnel Departures

While the expansion and realignment of the CASC network will yield many benefits, they have also brought about the departure of several key NE CASC team members whose work is focused on the Midwest and therefore does not fall within the new boundaries of the NE CASC region. Over the past month, principal investigators Thomas Bonnot, Chris Caldwell, Hilary Dugan, Dana Infante and Frank Kutka have stepped down from their positions in NE CASC leadership. Additionally, Midwest tribal resilience liaison Sara Smith will work closely with the new MW CASC while maintaining collaborations with NE CASC.

Although these Midwest team members are departing from NE CASC, their accomplishments in advancing the center’s mission will not be forgotten. “Each of our valued Midwest colleagues has made vital contributions in shaping the vision for NE CASC, delivering first-rate science to resource managers, and elevating the center’s reputation across our region,” said Palmer. “It has been an inspiration working with these talented individuals, and we look forward to collaborating with them again in the future.”


Midwest Collaborators Recognize Departing Personnel 

Palmer’s sentiments above have been amplified by resource managers and other members of the regional adaptation science community, several of whom recently commented on the far-reaching impact that our Midwest colleagues have achieved through their NE CASC-supported projects. While the glowing testimonials below are not meant to provide a comprehensive overview of all that our teammates have accomplished in their NE CASC roles, we hope they impart some idea of what this group has meant to the NE CASC and Northeast climate adaptation science communities.

Chris Caldwell, College of Menominee Nation
Frank Kutka, College of Menominee Nation
Sara Smith, NE CASC Tribal Resilience Liaison

During their involvement with NE CASC, Chris Caldwell, Frank Kutka, and Sara Smith have collaborated on a variety of projects designed to strengthen the Tribal climate adaptation science community. One major achievement in this regard has been the creation of Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu, a groundbreaking document that provides a framework for integrating Indigenous knowledge, history and language into climate adaptation planning. As members of the team that produced this document, Caldwell and Smith received a 2019 Climate Adaptation Leadership Award from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA).  More broadly, they have also established and developed the Northeast Indigenous Climate Resilience Network, the subject of this comment from one of their longtime collaborators:

“During their time with NE CASC, Chris Caldwell, Sara Smith and Frank Kutka have proven to be a remarkable team. They have worked to build an expansive network of Tribal scholars and scientists, Tribal organization environmental professionals, partners, and allies, which has come to be known as the Northeast Indigenous Climate Resilience Network (NICRN).  Their effectiveness in this regard has been demonstrated through the success of NICRN’s signature events, such as the Indigenous Planning Summer Institute and the Shifting Seasons Summit. Last Spring, for example, the 3rd Shifting Seasons summit featured more than 30 presenters who spoke on a variety of climate adaptation topics from a Tribal perspective and attracted more than 300 participants representing over 50 Tribal nations  as well numerous inter-Tribal organizations.  There’s no question that NICRN has been a significant force in helping mobilize and energize a wide spectrum of Indigenous and Tribal people around climate adaptation, and NICRN wouldn’t have become a reality without Chris, Sara, and Frank.” –Casey Thornbrugh, Tribal Climate Science Liaison, Northeast and Southeast CASCs

Hilary Dugan, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Over the past century, ice cover in many Wisconsin lakes has declined by an average of one month during winter. Yet the consequences of this pronounced shift are unknown. Hilary Dugan’s research aims to unravel this mystery by exploring the implications of ice loss for the health of Wisconsin lakes and the aquatic life inside them. As one of Dugan’s colleagues attests, this work may prove essential to helping Wisconsin’s lakes and their inhabitants navigate the impacts of climate change:

“Hilary Dugan is doing groundbreaking research in an area that has been largely neglected within academia—winter limnology—but has major resource management implications. Hilary’s research investigates the growing unpredictability of lake ice phenology, and how early or late ice-off can affect lake environments for the rest of the year. Her work suggests that recently observed decline in Walleye recruitment may be connected to the growing unpredictability of spawning seasons among walleye, a circumstance triggered by climate change-induced variations in annual ice-off dates on Wisconsin lakes. Ultimately, this work implies that a variety of management actions may be possible to improve game fish recruitment, including angling restrictions that account for the shifting timing of spawning seasons and improved habitat management. Her research is vital both to the health of Wisconsin’s lakes and our ability to help fish species and their habitats adapt to the impacts of climate change.” –Zach Feiner, Fisheries Research Scientist,  University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology and (formerly) Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Thomas Bonnot, University of Missouri
An alumnus of the NE CASC Fellows Program, Thomas Bonnot has played a major role in developing the information necessary to guide landscape management decision-making across Missouri and other Midwestern states. His recent work co-leading a project to reintroduce the brown-headed nuthatch to Missouri’s Twain National Forest has garnered a variety of positive media attention and his development of a Landscape Health Index will provide governmental agencies with a powerful tool for evaluating the success of their conservation efforts. As one of Bonnot’s collaborators recently put it, “Tom’s research sheds light on problems that are fundamental to the work of resource management” at the state and federal levels: 

“I first became familiar with Tom’s work several years ago through my role in natural resource management planning at the Missouri Department of Conservation and have continued to collaborate with him as the forest biologist at the Mark Twain National Forest. In both of these roles, my colleagues and I have found Tom’s work indispensable in helping guide our conservation planning. Importantly, his research has consistently helped us answer three questions that are central to achieving our mission: whether or not we are working in the correct landscapes for resource conservation, the level of funding, effort and partnerships necessary to achieve our desired conservation results, and how we can evaluate the success of our efforts. Tom’s research in this area is highly complex and mathematically driven, but he has a great gift for making his results readily comprehensible to a variety of audiences. The quality of his work combined with his skill as a communicator makes him an ideal collaborator and trusted resource.” –Nate Muenks, Forest Biologist, Mark Twain National Forest, U.S. Forest Service

The NE CASC team sends a heartfelt thank you to these colleagues for years of positive collaboration and engagement. We hope there are many opportunities to work with them on cross-regional initiatives in the future.