Coalition of ranchers, environmentalists fought to keep program alive

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

A program at California State University-Humboldt that churns out land-management professionals has been spared from the budget ax, at least for now.

The university's Rangeland Resources and Wildland Soils program -- the only such offering in the state -- boasts a more than 90 percent employment rate for its graduates, who manage land used for grazing and timber.

Faculty and administrators this week were nailing down specifics of a streamlining plan for the program, one of the university's most expensive per student.

Another round of paring down university offerings may be ahead, but the rangeland program will likely survive for at least a few more years, department chairman Ken Fulgham said.

"I think we'll be given about a four-year probationary period to increase our student numbers," he said. The program only has about 40 students, significantly below its peak of 93 students in the late 1980s.

Among the program's likely changes is to reduce the required course units from 128 to 120 and to combine its two disciplines -- soils and rangeland -- for 72 units of classes instead of 37, Fulgham said.

Graduates of the program often work with the ranching or timber industries, often on land under state and federal management. As such, the livestock and dairy industries make use of their scientific research and expertise.

A committee charged with prioritizing university offerings based on cost-effectiveness had placed the rangeland science program in its lowest category, recommending it either be restructured or eliminated.

The university's academic senate recommended it be maintained, which pleased members of a coalition of environmentalists, cattle ranchers and conservation districts that had fought to keep it.

"We definitely understand that if we don't have ... people in the field who have training that is California-specific, it's difficult for our member ranchers to get the type of support they might need in the future," said Matt Byrne, executive vice president of the California Cattlemen's Association.

"We're of course glad to see them keep that intact for the time being," he said.

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