Stengl Biological Research Station was donated to the University of Texas in September of 1991 by UT alumna Dr. Lorraine "Casey" Stengl. Her vision was to provide UT with a strategically located field station in a different ecoregion to UT’s Brackenridge Field Laboratory (BFL) and with a large spatial template to allow research at broad scales. The original 208-acre tract was expanded by a further donation by Dr. Stengl of 373 acres in 2015. These generous donations of land and endowments by Dr. Stengl and her partner Lorraine Wyer over the past 30 years have allowed the development of facilities and supported baseline research at the field station. 

Additionally, the Stengl-Wyer Endowment is the largest endowment in the history of the College of Natural Sciences. Its aim is to support UT Austin’s highly-ranked programming in ecology and biological research, with a focus on the study of the diversity of life and interactions between living things and their natural environments. The endowment supports a Postdoctoral Scholars Program, graduate fellowships, research grants to high-impact research conducted by UT faculty, and support of undergraduates through the Freshman Research Initiative. Additionally, the endowment supports to enhancement of the Biodiversity Center's Collections as well as the field stations (Brackenridge Field Lab and Stengl Lost Pines Biological Station.)

The value of Stengl Lost Pines Biological Station is in the diversity of its natural systems. The broad range of habitats and communities found at SLP today are the product of past natural and human disturbances, ranging from the fire regimes that manage the pine forests to the mechanical clearing of farmland. Together, these events have created the rich habitat mosaic that now provides a rare opportunity for students and researchers to explore a wide variety of communities that are otherwise distant from the UT campus.

In the years leading up to the early 1900s, some of the original 208 acres of the field station were targeted by logging operations. After logging slowed to a halt, patches of pine and oak were left behind, creating stands of trees with varying age structures.  At the same time, cleared fields on both the North and Stengl tracts of the property were being used to grow crops and provide pasture for cattle. While pasture land was limited on the Stengl tract, cattle grazed the North tract extensively up until the early 2000s. This half of the property is also bisected by cleared roads used by utility vehicles to access power and gas lines. Smaller clearings in the Stengl tract were abandoned long before the land was donated to UT, allowing more natural pine meadow communities to establish in the openings. 

A field with tall trees and shrubs

After the donation of the Stengl tract in 1991, measures were taken to maintain the habitats formed by the site’s land-use history. Old pasture land on the western boundary has been regularly cleared using staggered mowing treatments to preserve the meadows. The construction of roads was also limited to avoid providing corridors for invasive species like KR Bluestem. Invasive species that had already colonized the site were targeted for removal. Chinaberry, an exotic tree, has been mechanically removed from riparian areas on the Stengl tract with new growth being removed where it appears. 

With the donation of the North tract’s 373 acres in 2015, the combined acreage of SLP represents an important sanctuary for many species of birds, insects, and mammals. The inclusion of the North tract also secured much of the watershed upstream of the Stengl tract’s diverse perennial pools and wetlands, protecting rich aquatic communities that constitute a key research interest. This expansive, relatively preserved landscape provides territory for large, top predators and habitat for endangered species such as the Navasota ladies tress orchid. SLP serves as a valuable refuge for displaced wildlife that could otherwise be extirpated by habitat loss.

The property has not only escaped habitat fragmentation caused by urban development and extensive clearing, but also the 2009, 2011, and 2015 crown fires that swept the surrounding area but missed burning significant portions of SLP.  Following these fires, SLP represents the largest continuous patch of old-growth pine left in the Lost Pines area providing a refuge source population for species that lost habitat elsewhere due to fire. A habitat and stewardship management plan has been implemented since these fires to promote conservation of these old-growth habitats along with fire mitigation activities.