Au Sable Whidbey campus cuts back programs

The worsening economy has taken another bite out of Whidbey with the announcement that the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies will suspend its summer academic program.

Au Sable is a privately-funded environmental educational organization that purchased 175 acres 10 years ago from the Washington state, on Central Whidbey land that formerly housed a pheasant farm. Since then it's been restoring the environment on its "Pacific Rim campus," particularly the historic prairie remnant.

The Michigan-based organization cited "unanticipated financial exigencies," in announcing suspension of the summer program. It also operates from campuses on the Great Lakes, South Florida and India.

Dr. Robert Pelant, Au Sable's Pacific Rim director, on Monday was preparing to leave to an Au Sable board meeting this week. He said the cuts announced to date will affect the May academic program which attracts 10 to 15 students and the summer program that hosts 50 students.

"They're retooling the whole mission and vision," Pelant said of Au Sable's board.

Pelant is still overseeing research at the Whidbey campus and continues to book rentals for the buildings. He does not anticipate any radical decision by the board, such as selling the property. "I doubt it," he said. "I asked them that than they said that's not on the table."

Au Sable is funded by a trust which, presumably, has taken a hit in the rapid stock market decline of recent months. Pelant said he is the only full-time employee on Whidbey Island.

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