About the Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
The Cooperative Units: A Brief History
The Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit is part of a nationwide program dating back to 1935
when the first Units were formed under cooperative agreements between the U.S. Biological Survey
[predecessor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)], state conservation agencies, land grant
universities, and the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI). These Units were created to foster college-level
research and graduate student training in support of science-based management of fish and wildlife and
In 1960, Congress passed the Cooperative Units Act (P.L. 86-686), authorizing the Unit program as a
line item in the budget of the FWS. By Executive action, the Units were moved from the FWS to the newly
formed National Biological Service (NBS) in 1994, then to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1996 when
the NBS was incorporated into the USGS as the Biological Resources Division (BRD), now known as the
Ecosystems Mission Area.
Today, there are 40 Units located in 38 states, each existing under its own cooperative agreement. The
general program of a Unit is directed by a Coordinating Committee consisting of USGS/Ecosystems, state,
university and Wildlife Management Institute representatives. In Alaska, the US Fish and Wildlife Service
retains non-voting membership in the Coordinating Committee. Units are staffed by a Unit Leader and one
or more Assistant Leaders who are PhD-level scientists employed by USGS and appointed to the faculty of
the sponsoring university. Unit scientists conduct research, advise graduate students, and teach one
graduate course annually. Other faculty cooperate in the program by conducting Unit-sponsored research.
Each university provides offices, facilities, and support staff for its Unit. The state conservation agency
provides its Unit with annual base funding for operations and funding and in-kind support for research
projects. WMI supports the Unit program through its influence nationwide.
Structure and Function of the Alaska Unit
The Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit was formed in 1991 by the merger of the Alaska
Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit (est. 1950) and the Alaska Cooperative Fishery Research Unit (est.
1978). The Alaska Unit exists by cooperative agreement between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game
(ADFG), University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), USGS, FWS, and WMI.
With offices in the Laurence Irving Building on the West Ridge of the UAF campus, the Alaska Unit is an
administrative component of the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB). Unit scientists hold positions as
faculty with IAB and have teaching appointments with the Department of Biology and Wildlife or the
College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Unit staff consists of a Unit Leader, four Assistant Leaders, a
Fiscal Professional, and an Administrative Generalist.
Alaska Unit research emphasizes terrestrial and aquatic ecology of arctic and subarctic ecosystems.
The mission of the Unit is understanding the ecology of Alaska’s fish and wildlife; evaluating impacts of
land use and development on these resources; and relating effects of social and economic needs to
production and harvest of natural populations.
In addition to the expected Unit functions of graduate student training/instruction and technical
assistance, research efforts are directed at problems of productivity, socioeconomic impacts, and
perturbation on fish and wildlife population, their habitats and ecosystems. Unit research also includes
integrated studies of fish and wildlife at the ecosystem level.
Cooperator Support: The Key to Success
UAF, ADFG, and USGS each make substantial financial contributions to the continuing operation of the
Alaska Unit. This partnership is the key to the success of the Unit: each of the partners bears part of the
cost but receives the whole of the benefit. The benefit comes as products: research published in peer-
reviewed journals; students trained as entry-level professionals; and technical assistance provided by
UAF annually provides administrative funds for Unit business operations, including the salaries and
benefits of UAF support staff. UAF/IAB also provides laboratory and storage space in support of Unit
research projects. In recognition of the contributions of ADFG and USGS to this partnership, UAF
substantially reduces the indirect costs (overhead) charged to Unit grants and contracts.
The ADFG Divisions of Sport Fish and Wildlife Conservation provide funds annually for support of Unit
operations and research projects. In addition, ADFG also provides funding and in-kind support of graduate
students, often as part of its own operations. This arrangement gives agency-based experience to students.
USGS pays the salaries and benefits of the Unit scientists located at the Alaska Unit. In addition, a
modest operating fund may be provided annually.
Unit Personnel Compete for Research
The annual support for the Alaska Unit does not cover the costs of much of the research program. Most
Unit research funds are acquired by Unit scientists and cooperating faculty through competitive research
proposals. These funds come from a variety of state and federal agencies, as well as international
organizations and private foundations.
Proposals are submitted by one or more lead scientists [Principal Investigators (PIs)] through UAF to the
funding agency. Research topics may be basic in nature but are always aimed at a resource management
problem. All research projects must support the mission of the Alaska Unit and be approved by the Unit
Proposal budgets usually include stipends and tuition for graduate students who work under the
direction of the PI and use data from the project for an MS or PhD thesis. Federal agencies award research
funds through USGS to UAF using the Research Work Order, a funding mechanism authorized by Congress
specifically for the Cooperative Units. ADFG and other agencies of the State of Alaska award funds for Unit
projects using the Reimbursable Services Agreement.