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2004 Strategic Plan

The following document is the draft strategic plan reviewed by the External Review Committee that visited the Preserve in early June 2004. This version does not yet incorporate the recommendations of the External Review Report. A final version of the Strategic Plan for the Preserve incorporating the recommendations of the External Review Committee is pending.

Strategic Plan for the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve – March 29, 2004

Executive Summary

The mission of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve (JRBP) is to contribute to the understanding of the Earth's natural systems through research, education, and protection of the Preserve's resources. Convened in January of 2003, a Strategic Planning Committee drawn from representatives of the faculty, administration, graduate students, JRBP staff, neighbors, and docents reviewed the mission, past accomplishments, current issues, and opportunities for the Preserve. In the opinion of the Committee, past management of JRBP has successfully met this mission. Continuing this success, however, will require adapting the management to new opportunities and new challenges. In particular, the management of JRBP should be enhanced through increased emphasis on three kinds of integration. First, the conceptual and operational relationships among the research, education, and conservation aspects of its mission should be strengthened. Second, integration with Stanford's teaching mission and lands management should be reinforced. Third, JRBP should emphasize coordination of land management and effective communication with stakeholders outside the University.

To enable this enhanced integration, the Committee did three things. First, it reviewed the broad mission for intrinsic merit, sharpening the focus on an approach that uses scientific inquiry to enrich the full suite of program objectives. Second, it made a series of seven specific recommendations for making this sharpened vision a reality. Third, it explored a number of the specific issues facing the Preserve over the next several years, and it provided guidance on managing these.

Each of the Committee's specific recommendations will require resources from the University, but the investment is modest in relation to the likely returns. The seven recommendations are:

  • appoint a faculty member as Director of the Preserve,
  • create an enhanced Jasper Ridge Committee, charged with bringing the full range of academic perspectives into the decision making process,
  • develop a JRBP Coordinating Council that provides a forum for information exchange and discussion among the broad suite of entities that interface with JRBP,
  • establish a program to provide students with hands-on experience in resource management,
  • develop a collaborative process that synthesizes perspectives of major Stanford stakeholders (including JRBP) in recommendations for the management of Stanford lands,
  • build a knowledge base for long-term research and management,
  • assess the current state of the Preserve's natural and historical resources, providing a reference point for future research and management.

JRBP is an immensely valuable resource that has engaged excellent people and garnered consistent support. For the future, JRBP can build on these strengths. This strategic plan is intended as a roadmap, highlighting aspects of JRBP's structure and operations that should be preserved as well as those that should be changed.

Jasper Ridge Strategic Plan

I. Introduction and Goals

The Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve is a major resource for scientific discovery at Stanford. With research dating from the University's earliest years, the area comprising JRBP has hosted numerous fundamental studies in ecology, systematics, hydrology, geology, and archaeology. After Jasper Ridge was formally designated a preserve in 1973, the modest stream of research activity expanded many-fold. Official status as a preserve stimulated several Stanford classes to integrate the Preserve into their curricula. It also inspired the development of a program to train student and community docents and involve them as ambassadors for science and natural history. This combination of distinguished research, integration with the University's educational mission, and a dedicated docent community are the foundation for the Preserve's past success and future prospects.

This strategic plan is intended to enhance JRBP's record of success by providing guidance for its effective management over the next several decades. The aim of this guidance is maximizing the Preserve's ability to fulfill its mission of research, education, and conservation. Critical issues include insuring the integrity of the site and its relevance for future research, the availability of support from the University and the community, and the maintenance of a management structure that is effective, responsive, and flexible.

II. The Strategic Planning Process

The approach of the Committee (Appendix 1) has been to evaluate the existing strengths and unique features of the Preserve, and to outline a framework for building on these assets. While the Preserve's strengths provide a strong base for its future, three general areas-sustainability, coordination, and academic integration-present challenges and opportunities for the coming years. Sustaining the Preserve's resources is fundamental for long-term success. Potential challenges to sustainability range from climate change and invasive species to the impacts of growing user communities. Coordination issues arise from a host of areas in which JRBP has shared responsibility with other land managers or is particularly sensitive to regulatory and land-use decisions, both within and outside Stanford. Examples include the future of Searsville Lake and its water storage capacity, wildfire protection, and threats from disease-carrying organisms and invasive species. Academic integration involves bridging the psychological distance between JRBP and the core campus, especially responding to the University's academic priorities and initiatives in a way that enhances the value of JRBP for the University's academic mission. These issues have been recurring themes and influence many of our specific recommendations.

The Committee's deliberations have ranged from the very specific to the very general. In monthly meetings over the last year, we began with thought experiments about Jasper Ridge a quarter century from now, and then debated detailed scenarios for managing specific issues. These discussions, plus meetings with Stanford faculty and staff, plus other stakeholders, helped inform the core of the Committee's discussions and conclusions, which include both general guidelines and specific recommendations for JRBP's mission, operations, and interactions. This report presents the Committee's major conclusions, with recommendations for a series of specific actions in Appendix 2.

III. The mission of JRBP

Reviewing JRBP's mission and clarifying the relationship between its activities and its mission were a major focus of the strategic planning process. The Committee concluded that the existing mission statement-The mission of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve is to contribute to the understanding of the Earth's natural systems through research, education, and protection of the Preserve's resources.-is generally appropriate, from the perspective of the University, the researchers, and members of the broader community.

Three aspects of the mission statement warrant updating and clarification. First, because JRBP has pervasive manifestations of human activity, ranging from invasive species to a large dam, the emphasis on natural systems needs to be expanded to include human impacts. Second, the protection mandate in the mission statement is a prerequisite for pursuing the mission into the future. This should be broadened to include not only conservation on JRBP but also contributions to the fundamental science of protecting the Earth's biological resources. Third, the three aspects of the mission focusing on research, education, and conservation have been viewed as interdependent mainly in the limited sense that research and education ultimately depend on the long-term health of the Preserve's ecosystems. For the future, we recommend greater integration through a new perspective that emphasizes scientific discovery as both the core of the Preserve's mission and a focus for connecting and strengthening all aspects of the mission.

Three features combine to make JRBP unique: its history and potential for fundamental discoveries; its balanced emphasis on research, education, and conservation; and its location on the campus of a major university in a metropolitan area. A philosophy that emphasizes the process and contributions of scientific inquiry will allow JRBP to take full advantage of the features that make it unique. A focus on not only the excitement of scientific discovery but also its value can enhance both the long-term viability of JRBP and its support for the mission of Stanford University. An inquiry-centered philosophy will help sustain the Preserve's contributions to groundbreaking research, while enhancing local communities through opportunities to understand both the site and the science it fosters. It will provide Stanford with opportunities to educate outstanding researchers and make environmental knowledge a key feature of undergraduate education, while providing a framework for community outreach that values both science and open space. The Preserve's on-campus location encourages broad participation in research, and a broad-based research program reinforces education and conservation activities that build on scientific inquiry.


The core of the Preserve's research mission should be enabling significant, investigator-initiated studies of the environment. Many of these studies require sites with minimal human impacts, where the operations of biological, physical, and chemical processes are accessible. Others take advantage of historical and current human impacts to explore phenomena at the interface of natural processes and human actions.

Key goals to sustain or augment opportunities for significant research include (1) protecting JRBP's rich suite of biological, geological, hydrological, and archaeological resources, (2) maintaining an accessible archive of historical data and background information, (3) improving the integration among the research, education, and conservation aspects of the Preserve's mission, and (4) strengthening coordination between JRBP and other sites, especially other Stanford lands. Specific recommendations for implementing these actions are discussed in section VI.


The education activities involving JRBP should strive for a balance between learning about the Preserve's natural systems and learning about the process of scientific inquiry. This includes not only the discoveries of past researchers but also direct participation in creating new knowledge about the Preserve and its natural systems. JRBP's educational activities can add value beyond traditional encounters with nature through an emphasis on educating for scientific literacy using techniques that reflect a scientific process, whether a hands-on experiment or a thought experiment. For visitors and students of any age, a primary goal of the education program should be communicating how knowledge is acquired, how science contributes to the world, and how natural environments are studied. Docents and researchers both play important roles in this mission.

Key goals for enhancing the strength of JRBP's education mission include (1) creating expanded opportunities for independent undergraduate research, (2) strengthening links between JRBP and Stanford classes, and (3) revising the training of docents, enabling them to be an effective part of this enhanced education mission. Revising the management of Stanford lands in a way that augments student research opportunities on lands other than JRBP (section IV) can help manage the pressure for increased use and the impacts it brings (Appendix 2).


Conservation activities at JRBP should have two emphases. One is developing knowledge that has fundamental conservation value. The other is stewardship, insuring that JRBP maintains the natural resources necessary for it to fulfill its mission far into the future. Stewardship efforts at JRBP should be designed to yield both new information of general value and protection of particular species or habitats. Individual cases will warrant different mixes of emphasis on knowledge versus protection, but there should always be a mix. This approach to conservation emphasizes goals and activities inspired by fundamental questions rather than narrowly defined targets. At the same time, it recognizes that species and biotic communities that are globally rare or diminished in distribution provide opportunities that are both scientifically important and critical to the University's commitment to responsible stewardship.

Almost all of the research at JRBP, whether or not it was designed to address a conservation problem, is relevant to conservation. For the future, the Preserve should help researchers develop the conservation value of their research. In addition to a guiding philosophy and culture that emphasizes the connections between research and conservation, JRBP can help with specifics. It should explore approaches to data and resource management that enhance opportunities to highlight conservation implications of research. This is a natural outgrowth of a discovery-centered perspective.

Key goals for advancing the conservation mission, making contributions to the fundamental science of protecting the Earth's biological resources, include (1) strengthening the partnership between JRBP research and management (Section IV), (2) creating opportunities for educating students in resource management, with an emphasis on Jasper Ridge, and (3) enhancing integration of research and conservation across JRBP and other Stanford lands (Section IV). Effective work on conservation can be greatly facilitated through a comprehensive assessment of the Preserve's biological resources (Section VI).

This integrated, three-part mission strengthens the broadly successful philosophy that has been the foundation of past JRBP management. The emphasis on scientific discovery and the connection with Stanford create opportunities for taking full advantage of the Preserve's attributes. The integration of research, education, and conservation provides a conceptual and operational base for adding value to each area, while making all three consistent with the University's missions in education and stewardship.

IV. Jasper Ridge in the University

Over the last quarter century, Jasper Ridge has been well supported by the University and the School of Humanities and Sciences. It has a successful record of effective management and positive relationships with the research community and University operations. The Jasper Ridge Committee, the Executive Director, and the JRBP staff have done an outstanding job of managing the Preserve, elevating its profile, raising funds, and managing construction of the new Leslie Sun Field Station.

The number of Stanford students visiting JRBP as part of University classes has grown to over two thousand per year, evidence of growing recognition of its academic value. JRBP is a vital and widely used component of graduate student education in environmental sciences. The number of undergraduates conducting independent research is, however, small.

In the future, programs related to the environment will be increasingly important parts of the University. Faculty and student research on JRBP will probably grow naturally with the growing emphasis on the environment. Effectively managing this increased research activity will require providing increased coordination and access to information, including information that will come from a comprehensive assessment of biological resources (Section VI). Research opportunities for undergraduates warrant increased priority. JRBP, working with the University, should explore a variety of approaches for increasing both independent undergraduate projects and undergraduate participation in established projects.

The University's current planning envisions a Stanford Institute of the Environment that serves as a focal point for coordinating and enhancing campus-wide environmental research and teaching. JRBP has been a visible part of the planning to date. Strong links between the Preserve and the Institute of the Environment can make major contributions to the long-term success of both entities. The Institute of the Environment can help to assemble, coordinate, and excite the broad range of faculty and other stakeholders whose engagement is fundamental to JRBP's ability to pursue its mission. For the Institute of the Environment, the Preserve is both a laboratory and an icon. As a laboratory, JRBP provides a broad range of opportunities for novel inter-disciplinary research and teaching, including conservation studies. As an icon, JRBP represents a large commitment to supporting environmental research and teaching. It also represents one aspect of the University's broader commitment to responsible management of its own lands.

To insure effective integration of JRPB with the University and the Stanford Institute of the Environment, the Preserve should have a prominent profile. Key goals for achieving this are (1) appointing a faculty member as Director, (2) instituting an enhanced Jasper Ridge Committee, and (3) creating a JRBP Coordinating Council.

JRBP, the Institute of the Environment, and the University share a common interest in wise management of all Stanford lands. Stanford University is a large landowner with diverse goals for the lands it manages. The Preserve is at one end of the spectrum of management approaches, but it is intrinsically embedded in management issues that range from conservation planning to water management. JRBP and the Institute of the Environment form a natural locus for helping coordinate those aspects of land management that involve sustainability, biological resources, and research. Increasing interest in and pressure for sustainable management, both from inside and outside the University, increase the value of a comprehensive approach to land management. A partnership involving all of the interested entities within the University, including the faculty, Facilities Operations, the Planning Office, Stanford Management Company, and JRBP can provide perspectives on land management that let the University more effectively pursue its mission, while better integrating the Preserve and its goals.

Currently there is no formal process that integrates the management of Stanford lands with the University's academic activities and priorities. Such a process could benefit several aspects of land management and a number of academic programs. For JRBP, development of appropriate integration is essential. Decisions about legal conservation designation, livestock grazing, agriculture, and water management all have the potential for large, direct and indirect impacts on JRBP. At present, JRBP has no official role in the decision-making processes addressing such issues. Effective integration can minimize the risk that a land management decision will have negative impacts on JRBP. It can also highlight prospects for land-management activities that enhance academic opportunities.

The key goal for enhanced integration of JRBP with Stanford's land management is creation of a collaborative process that takes advantage of the perspectives of all of the major Stanford stakeholders (section VI). The long-term success of the Preserve will rest heavily on how effectively the University manages its natural resources.

V. Jasper Ridge in the Community

JRBP interacts with many entities beyond the campus, some indirectly through the University, and some directly. This latter group includes local individuals, neighbors, community groups, K-12 schools and educational groups, some local agencies, other protected areas and academic field stations, foundations, and others. Within the Preserve's sphere of interactions, the Committee focused on two: the local community, and other protected areas and field stations.

Local community. The value of JRBP's undeveloped areas is broadly appreciated by local governments and local communities, and JRBP has a large group of supportive community docents. Nonetheless, awareness of the Preserve's mission and activities is limited primarily to the community members directly involved as docents or visitors. The Committee recognizes several important benefits of broader awareness, including greater support for University and JRBP policies regarding watershed and water management, fire management, scenic values, equestrian activities, and public health issues involving vector-borne diseases.

Efforts to achieve a broader awareness of JRBP's mission and activities should emphasize distributed outreach in terms of people and venues. The Committee recommends: (1) development of a "speakers bureau" that can connect the experts, including faculty, students, and staff, to community groups for presentations about the Preserve's research, activities, and management, (2) broader dissemination of JRBP's annual report and published newsletter, Views; and (3) creation of a broad-based JRBP Coordinating Council that includes members of the docent and local communities (Section VI).

Other protected areas and field stations. JRBP's researchers represent a diffuse network of interactions that extend internationally. More than half of all research programs at the Preserve involve multi-site comparisons, and more than a third of all investigators come from outside the Stanford campus. Several studies are explicitly part of international, national, or regional networks employing standardized protocols and data-sharing. This model of interaction will be important to future research and is encouraged by funding agencies. Because the appropriate site comparisons and collaborations vary across research topics, JRBP should focus on baseline data and a willingness to participate, rather than on targeted relationships with particular networks or projects.

Key actions for enhancing the value of JRBP as a node in multi-site projects are (1) improving the quality and accessibility of JRBP data on climate, resources, and past research and (2) insuring that JRBP has sufficient flexibility and resources to effectively assess and respond to future opportunities for multi-site projects.

Section VI. Enabling actions and short-term priorities

Appointing a faculty member as Director of JRBP.

JRBP needs a primary academic spokesperson, representing it to the academic side of the University and charged with leading the effort to translate broad strategic plans into specific objectives in support of research, education, and conservation. It is critical to fill the position with a person of vision and energy, who will make a significant commitment and be appropriately recognized and compensated by the University. The effort level of the Director should be comparable to that of the Directors of large interdisciplinary programs. The Director should not be charged with routine management of JRBP but should be an addition to the current structure.

Creating an enhanced JRBP Committee.

This committee of faculty and students should play a key role in defining the vision of the Preserve and translating that vision into policies by providing intellectual, strategic (including fundraising), and practical advice to the JRBP Director. The JRBP Committee should work with the Director in representing JRBP to the University and the community, and in obtaining input and guidance from a variety of constituencies.

Creating a JRBP Coordinating Council.

JRBP can benefit immensely from effective communication and coordination with a number of groups that have an interest in issues at JRBP and nearby lands. This includes students, docents, neighbors, Stanford Facilities Operations, Stanford Management Company, fire districts, water districts, planning departments, park departments, fish and wildlife agencies, and others. A regularly scheduled group, coordinated through the JRPB Executive Director, should serve as a conduit of information on issues on the horizon as well as a forum for coordinating responses to a range of threats and opportunities. This committee should be primarily a forum for information exchange rather than decision making.

Establishing a resource-management training program.

Many of the issues facing JRBP require dedicated study as a prerequisite to informed decisions. Developing the ability to provide this kind of decision support should be a central objective of education in resource management. JRBP's need for information and the University's commitment to educating individuals skilled in resource management create a clear opportunity. Fellowships for a small number of masters students could meet JRBP's need for information while enhancing the University's offerings. Specific topics for resource managers in training could range from evaluating alternative strategies for managing Searsville Lake to the pros and cons of actively eliminating an invasive species.

Developing a collaborative process for management of Stanford's lands.

This process, which should engage the faculty, Stanford Management Company, Facilities Operations, Office of Planning, Risk Management, SLAC, Stanford Office of the General Counsel, Government & Community Relations, and JRBP, can strengthen resource management by coordinating it with academic perspectives and by bringing the creativity and knowledge of key stakeholders to land management decisions. Some of the key issues to address concern strategies for the legal designation of conservation land, especially land managed under a habitat conservation plan (HCP). Others concern the best strategies for effective management of Stanford's open space, including regulating access, the role of research, and long-term impacts of livestock grazing or agriculture.

Building a knowledge base for long-term research and assessing the State-of-the-Preserve.

JRBP's future depends on two fundamental resources-natural resources and information resources. Future efforts to study and protect the Preserve's ecosystems require two major improvements in the way these resources interact: a one-time State-of-the-Preserve assessment to determine and document what is present in the Preserve, and an ongoing data management system to make available the results from this assessment and from a century of research. These two efforts should be undertaken jointly, so that, wherever appropriate, the methods and focus of the assessment build on the results of previous studies. This updating and integration of natural and information resources will help forge a continuum between research, education, and conservation by serving as a basis for future research, a baseline for future assessments, and a guidepost for management activities. A State-of-the-Preserve assessment will also contribute to determining the level of activity the Preserve can support, the programmatic "carrying capacity."

This undertaking is significant in scale because of JRBP's high biotic diversity and high research productivity. JRBP includes examples of all major non-coastal plant communities of west-central California and includes one tenth of all vascular plant species in California; animal diversity is similarly high. The history of research dates to the opening of the university and includes more than 160 theses and dissertations and 350 publications, many (but far from all) of which may provide benchmarks against which to interpret the results of a new assessment. Past research involving studies of biotic diversity, species distributions, and major, integrative ecosystem processes and parameters should be consulted in mapping out the State-of-the-Preserve assessment.

We recommend that the Director oversee a program involving three PhDs for two years to conduct this effort in coordination with JRBP staff, and with assistance from community docents and students. The end products should include raw data, analyzed data products, geographical information, and, where appropriate, archived samples. In addition, the assessment should provide descriptions of research methods and data management policies.

Appendix 1: The Jasper Ridge Strategic Planning Committee

Chris Field (Chair), Professor by Courtesy, Department of Biological Sciences
Irene Brown, Docent and Independent Researcher, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve
Nona Chiariello, Staff Scientist, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve
Philippe Cohen, Executive Director, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve
Will Cornwell, PhD Candidate, Department of Biological Sciences
David Freyberg, Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Bill Gomez, Docent, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve
Deborah Gordon, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Lisa Moore, PhD Candidate, Department of Biological Sciences
Kären Nagy, Executive Dean, School of Humanities and Sciences
Jeanne Sedgwick, Docent, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve

Appendix 2. Guidance on particular issues

JRBP is always involved in a number of complicated issues. A primary goal of this strategic planning process is insuring the existence of structures that make resolving those issues as efficient and consistent with the Preserve's long-term goals as possible. The Committee did not conduct detailed studies on any of the issues facing JRBP, but it did consider them in the context of the Preserve's strategic goals. The guidance here is intended as starting points for subsequent planning activities. Each of the issues discussed below warrants a thorough evaluation and perhaps a dedicated management plan.

Searsville Lake.

Any changes to the management of Searsville Lake will have impacts on JRBP and its ability to fulfill its mission. It is, therefore, imperative that JRBP play a major role in evaluating any proposal for altered management of Searsville Lake or alteration of the Searsville Dam. The research, education, and conservation aspects of the Jasper Ridge mission all require substantive involvement in the planning process. Impacts on not only the lake, but also upstream and downstream ecosystems, should be thoroughly assessed. Given the current state of knowledge, this assessment will require new research on the coupling among the dam, reservoir, and surrounding ecosystems. The University should make a commitment to supporting this research.

Fire management.

Wildfire in the urban/wildland interface poses substantial risks to lives and structures. Hence, there is a strong need for a scientifically based fire management plan designed to reduce fire hazards to neighboring communities and to JRBP infrastructure. At the same time, fire management should not compromise JRBP's research, education, and conservation missions. The challenge of maintaining an appropriate fire management plan is potentially complicated by pressure from a public increasingly sensitized to the risk of wildfire. An effective fire management plan should include the following three components: 1) formal processes and strategies for coordination with the fire fighting community; 2) fuels management strategies, especially along the Preserve's southern and western perimeters; and 3) outreach to the surrounding communities and local governments about JRBP and its fire management activities and concerns.


All of the infrastructure at JRBP should help the Preserve fulfill its mission. This requires buildings, roads, trails and other structures that are high in quality but low in environmental impact. The infrastructure at JRBP can also support the Preserve's mission through demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and resource protection. Infrastructure that is not necessary or that duplicates functions better handled in other locations should be considered for removal. Low-quality infrastructure should be considered for removal or replacement. Specific changes to evaluate include reducing vehicle impacts through group transportation service (such as the Marguerite campus shuttle bus) and replacement of the bunkhouse for visiting researchers with an approach to visitor housing that has a smaller "environmental footprint." Auto access to JRBP should be re-evaluated, with a focus on road surfaces and the best location for the main gate.

Invasive species.

Many widespread invasive species, such as yellow star thistle and Argentine ants, are established at JRBP. It will be necessary to decide how to manage the impact of these invaders and others that will inevitably arrive. The conservation mission of the Preserve requires a process for evaluating both established and potential invaders for degree of threat, available control measures, and cost of control. Invasive species at JRBP may provide research opportunities; in turn, such research can contribute to management decisions about conservation at the Preserve and elsewhere.

Managing user impacts.

Human activities at JRBP generate impacts on the Preserve's ecosystems. For example, educational activities, including classes and docent tour groups, create wear on trails, disturb animals, and potentially introduce exotic organisms. Researchers can create persistent physical or biological manipulations, leave markers, or bring equipment that can carry exotic seeds or diseases. Even conservation efforts could disrupt ecosystems, if, for example, JRBP decided to attempt to eliminate an invading species. Many of these impacts are in ecosystems that are susceptible to lasting damage from overuse. JRBP should, on a continuing basis, evaluate the user impacts in each of the major ecosystems and associated with each of the major user groups. Any action to manage impacts should focus first on the activities that are least consistent with the JRBP mission. Strategies for decreasing impacts may include zoning the Preserve, limiting the number of visitors, constraining users' activities, or directing some kinds of activities to other sites.