Joy Belsky: 'She made us better'


Joy Belsky, a Portland, Ore., range ecologist who rose to national prominence while crusading to boot cattle off public lands in the West, died Dec. 15 of breast cancer. She was 56.

Belsky took on ranchers who, she argued, were letting their cattle trample native plants and wildlife, public agencies that she believed discriminated against women, and fellow range scientists who, she maintained, were too timid to speak up against practices that damaged the land.

In Oregon, she fought plans to shoot coyotes on the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge and forced federal-land agencies to face scientific questions about the impacts of livestock grazing (HCN, 7/31/00: Carroll lives on imaginary planet).

"Certainly, she was out front on a lot of issues that were important to her and society," said Bill Marlett, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, where Belsky worked as a staff ecologist.

Born in Texas, Belsky received degrees from Smith College, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the University of Washington. She studied the grasslands of Africa for more than five years before poaching became so rampant she had to leave. She published more than 45 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters on African and North American grasslands, many of them blaming livestock grazing for upsetting the delicate balance of native plants and wildlife in the arid Interior West.

That made her one of the most prominent American women in range management and earned her the ire - and often the grudging respect - of the mostly male ranchers and range managers who had long dominated the field.

"We have certain things we believe to be true and when someone like Joy challenges you on them, it forces you to think them through more carefully," said William Krueger, professor and head of the Department of Rangeland Resources at Oregon State University. "In that way, she probably made us better at the same time she made us angry."

Survivors include her husband, Bob Amundson; her mother, Sally Belsky; and sister, Janice Schwartz.

Copyright © 2002 HCN and Michael Milstein