At the DPW Natural and Cultural Resources Management Branch, program managers Dr. Amber Dankert and Virginia Sanders leverage much of their work through the University of Illinois in a Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit agreement.

 That work is balancing the natural resources with Army training mission needs. The key to their success is effective communication, collaboration and cooperation with wildlife biologist Drs. Jinelle Sperry, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center, and professor Mike Ward, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

NCRMB is tasked with keeping Fort Hood compliant with the Fort Hood Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan and Endangered Species Management Component. Both are multi-faceted plans updated every five years that ensures Fort Hood remains the best place it can be for Soldiers using a healthy natural landscape required for sustained Army training success.

CESU-sponsored programs at the NCRMB include wild pig trapping, endangered species, mammology, pollinators, birds of concern and outreach. ERDC and UIUC provides local staff – five field biologists and numerous seasonal staff – who support much of the work outlined in the INRMP and ESMC.

“This (CESU) allows for discussion between the ERDC, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the NCRMB at Fort Hood. This communication is crucial in order to be adaptive and to achieve our goals,” Ward explained.

Thus, the CESU agreement has many parts addressing important research, management and regulatory aspects described in Fort Hood’s INRMP and ESMC.

“It is not often when one agreement covers so many aspects, and from my perspective it is rewarding to see these various aspects leading to better management and stewardship,” Ward added.

Indirect rates, also known as overhead, are often the costliest part of Cooperative Agreements with academia/agencies and usually exceeds well over half of each dollar spent. That is, presumably, because CAs go through law, accounting and other administrative reviews to stay transparent per their respective institute. However, CESU agreements have a negotiated 17.5% overhead rate, maximizing the funding available for natural resources programs.

“The (Fort Hood) CESU has a lower indirect rate (compared to most academics), which results in more resources being used toward the goals of the agreement. Finally, the CESU agreement maintains a long history between Construction Engineering Research Laboratories (now ERDC), the University of Illinois and Fort Hood,” Ward said.

“For over 20 years there has been this relationship that allows for the different organizations to fully understand the goals and objectives of the agreement and to have a smooth running project that has increased the basic knowledge about endangered species, provided valuable information to managers, and achieved conservation and sustainability goals at Fort Hood,” Ward added.

Concurrent with Ward’s Ph.D dissertation research on blackbirds, he co-led another major research project at Fort Hood over 20 years ago that focused on the then-endangered and now-recovered Black-capped Vireo. Ward helped examine conspecific attraction of vireos by using artificial playbacks to attract the birds to settle into unoccupied habitat, a huge success story in endangered species recovery.

Sperry completed her Ph.D. fieldwork here on snake research. Sperry added to Ward’s praises about the Fort Hood CESU.

“The CESU agreement allows maximum flexibility to meet changing Army priorities and objectives. Although the organizations involved in the CESU agreement remain constant – Fort Hood, ERDC and UI – team members change as priorities shift,” Sperry said.  

“For example, new faculty members with varying expertise, e.g. Dr. Max Allen – mammalogist, are engaged as Army requires knowledge and support for different topic areas. Among the three cooperative organizations, there is a wealth of expertise that can be drawn upon. Because of this, the CESU has supported projects ranging from fundamental research on endangered species life history, to applied research on management strategies, to support for Endangered Species Act consultation and compliance,” Sperry added.

Because the cooperative partners (ERDC and UI) are research and academic organizations, the CESU agreement allows educational and research opportunities that may not otherwise be readily available.

Through the agreement, numerous research and graduate student projects have been supported on the Installation, contributing both to Army management objectives and training of future scientists.  

Beginning next month and extending through spring/early summer, roughly 20 seasonal field biologists will take the field here in the training areas as University of Illinois employees through this CESU. These highly skilled professionals will be collecting field-based scientific information to help Dankert, Sanders, Sperry and Ward inform outside-of-the-Army regulatory agencies with facts about the many exciting species that call The Great Place home.

Established in 1999, the CESU Network is a national consortium of public and private parties. Its purpose is to provide research, technical assistance and training to the federal land management, environmental and research agencies and their partners. The scope includes the biological, physical, social and cultural sciences needed to address natural and cultural resource management issues at multiple scales and in an ecosystem context.  

More CESU information can be found online at