To enhance understanding and sustainable use of the San Juan Mountains through research and education.


The Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) is an independent, 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit center of knowledge established in 2002 in Silverton, Colorado.  A sustaining premise of MSI is that collaborations among researchers, educators and policy makers with an interest in the San Juan Mountains and other mountain systems worldwide can provide increased knowledge and understanding of mountain environments and communities and the issues that affect them.

Mountain ecosystems have gained international attention in recent years.  There is widespread recognition that mountains are fragile environments, vulnerable to global climate change, soil erosion, watershed and forest degradation, fires, urban encroachment and other human impacts.  Occupying approximately one-fifth of the world’s land surface area and occurring in 75 percent of the world’s countries, mountains supply resources, goods and services to more than half the world’s population.  Mountains collect and store global water resources, providing up to 60 percent of downstream fresh water in humid regions and up to 95 percent in arid environments.  In addition, they contain important natural resources, support rich biological communities, attract tourists and sports enthusiasts, and host cultural diversity and human heritage.  However, the information needed to better understand and quantify increasing impacts on mountain ecology and cultural activities is severely lacking.  Hence there is a critical need for an institution such as the MSI.

MSI encourages the interdisciplinary study of the scientific, cultural, human and historical aspects of the San Juan Mountain environment.  MSI provides research and learning services to researchers, land managers, college and university students, educators, public agency staff and scientists, elected officials, and members of the public within and beyond the region.  Over the next five years MSI expects to provide an array of services including: reasonably-priced accommodations, offices or laboratories, meeting rooms, storage, field study site selection and support, instructors, assistance with public land permit acquisition, administration of grants and contracts, and identification of public land and community research opportunities.

The successful establishment of a central MSI field station facility in Silverton will have a broad impact within the region and beyond.  Currently there is a great deal of research and educational activity taking place in a dispersed manner by academic scientists and by public agency personnel.  MSI supports research and education by preserving access to study areas and organisms, by providing facilities and equipment in close proximity to those study areas, and by fostering an atmosphere of mutual scientific interest and collaboration.

Field station and other facilities that are developed at MSI will be of high quality, appropriate to the site and to the anticipated number of users.   Historic buildings shall be preserved and restored whenever possible.  Construction and maintenance techniques that are gentle to the environment (“green building techniques”) and especially to the local natural resources will be used whenever feasible.  Research resources, such as laboratory buildings and equipment, a data base of environmental parameters, or collections and library resources shall be of modest size and scope, appropriate to the user needs and to the financial resources of MSI.

MSI compiles existing data and maps on many aspects of the San Juan Mountains.  An extensive website has been developed that provides access to scientific information, a bibliography and a database of organizations.  Over the next five years continued compilation and management of the MSI database will provide scholars with the resources necessary to identify knowledge gaps and to facilitate systems analysis of mountain issues for land, resource and environmental management.  In addition to the database compilation and archiving activities, MSI will design and implement a long-term monitoring program to provide information about the biological and physical parameters of the San Juan Mountain environment.

MSI fosters and promotes partnerships whenever possible.  Partnerships benefit the specific program goals of MSI and ultimately the development of good science and public policy by creating a community of scholars with diverse expertise.  MSI places great value on sharing information, and will continue to seek collaborations with other researchers and organizations in the investigation, collection, analysis and distribution of scientific information in numerous appropriate formats.

All activities undertaken at MSI are expected to be of the highest possible quality.  Where appropriate, scientific investigations sponsored by MSI will be peer-reviewed by the national scientific community.  Efforts to seek understanding of the natural world will be conducted in an ethical and respectful manner.  Students and citizens of all backgrounds will be encouraged to participate.  Research and learning will emphasize cooperation and the integration of a variety of disciplines.  Future financial stability will be ensured through responsible management of MSI as a nonprofit business.