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Research at Whitworth University's Verbrugge Environmental Center seeks to explore the ecological, social and cultural dynamics of the region using the center as a platform for investigation. Ecologically, the center's location at the southern edge of the Columbia Highlands provides a range of ecological conditions characteristic of the ponderosa and lodgepole pine forests to the south, as well as the more mesic forests of the Selkirk Mountains and the Northern Rockies to the north and east. The center supports basic research primarily related to hydrology and vegetation dynamics in response to climatic variation and responses to a variety of anthropogenic and natural disturbances. Applied research is also important at VEC, as it will be crucial to assess the success of conservation efforts on the property. And applied research is carried out, as well, in the pursuit of new approaches for monitoring change in the mixed-conifer forests characteristic of the eco-region.

The economic and cultural context of the region is closely tied to its ecological distinctiveness. Forestry and agriculture, for example, play an important role in the local economy. Research at the VEC explores the interplay between economic, cultural, and ecological richness and resilience in the region.

The role of research in furthering education and collaboration at VEC is central to the goals of the center. Research is intentionally pursued that is well suited to undergraduate participation and that engenders collaboration with private individuals, other educational institutions, and both governmental and non-governmental organizations. These emphases ensure that students remain a priority at VEC, and that work done on the site has as wide an impact as possible.