Don Nelson, Washington State University Extension beef specialist, retired in early June and is moving to the Stockton, California, area to be near family. Don was not a traditional extension specialist in that his main focus was to build capacity in people so they had the tools to achieve their goals and aspirations.
Don came to WSU in 1989 from the beef industry, deciding to get back into the academic world.
“Many of the challenges faced by livestock producers and land managers are not production problems, but rather people and environmental problems and governmental regulations,” Nelson said. “The purpose of this (his) program area is to build capacity in people to work collaboratively to create their own desired future outcomes while sustaining and restoring the earth’s natural systems. In many cases, this requires learning new skills and altering human behavior.”
He did that.
In 1995, after securing a major grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Nelson launched a four-year program, the WSU-Kellogg Integrated Food and Farming Systems Project, called the WSU-Kellogg Project for short. In it, 160 people were taught consensus building, conflict resolution, leadership development and whole-systems decision-making. Project participants were farmers and ranchers, state and federal agency representatives, land managers, educators and members of the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Yakama Nation. Folks were from all regions of the state of Washington.
“The holistic decision-making framework is goal driven and simultaneously considers both the short- and long-term effects of the three elements of sustainability, i.e., economic viability, environmental soundness and social acceptability. All decisions are tested to assure that actions taken will lead to achievement of the holistic goal,” Nelson said.
Visiting recently with several people who were involved in this project, he was heartened to hear them speak of their improved lives and successful businesses as a result of what they learned in the WSU-Kellogg Project.
Two other notable programs he led were Noxious Weed Control Through Multi-Species Grazing and Creating a Sustainable Future for Fish, Water and People, which was a Consensus Institute project. Both of these built upon the skills people learned in the WSU-Kellogg project.
He was also a leader in Beefing up the Palouse, which studied grazing as an alternative to the Conservation Reserve Program and Grass-fed Beef Production Systems.
Nelson believes that one of the greatest untapped resources in the world today is human capability. He says, “If we can tap into that, who knows what is possible?”
Many of his educational programs were designed to help people improve and expand their creativity. Evidence shows that many people involved with the WSU-Kellogg project, and Nelson’s other programs, have experienced transformational changes in their lives.
Don Nelson is leaving the Pacific Northwest and he’ll be missed. Many of us here have benefited from knowing and working with him.
Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he writes about and teaches grazing management. He can be contacted at email@example.com.