Fort Collins, Colo.- At 6:38 a.m., Rick Knight is happily installed in his campus office, propelling himself about at high velocity on a chair with well-greased rollers. He drums out memos on his computer, organizes slides for a talk on golden eagles and flips through a book by Aldo Leopold looking for passages to read in class.
The associate professor of
wildlife biology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins has
been up for four hours. Or maybe it's more accurate to say he has
been surging about for four hours, walking his dogs around the
ranch he and his wife bought a year ago and leafing through some of
the books in his voluminous library.
arrival at Colorado State in 1987 from a postdoctoral fellowship at
the University of Washington, Knight has used his inexhaustable
energy to push for change. He has been a spark plug in numerous
campus innovations, from the development of a course on
biodiversity to the computer-indexing of the state's 80 scattered
biological collections. He helped form the Institute of
Environmental Natural Resource Policy, which links university
research to policy formation. He co-taught a graduate course last
fall in which students were charged with convening a jury of
randomly selected citizens and then selecting experts on opposing
sides of a land management issue to make informed presentations.
Based on the presentations, the jury came up with a recommendation
for resource managers. He has organized colloquia on everything
from water in the West to the role of land-grant universities. He
urged the abolition of some old courses, consolidation of others
and the creation of entirely new ones.
in, never waiting for the right moment. "He is politically naive,"
says Rick Laven, a professor in the Department of Forest Sciences.
"But he won't pull his punches. He's willing to lay it on the line,
to float it, to put it all out there. He, more than anyone in our
college, has heartfelt convictions about the field he works in."
Those convictions can be traced to the summer
after his freshman year at Iowa State University, when this
Maryland native went to Nebraska and North Dakota to study bison on
a grant from the National Science Foundation.
spent the whole summer studying the old bulls kicked out of the
herd. For 10 days at a time I had my binoculars, my backpack and I
followed the old bulls and then I would come in for two days so I
could get cleaned up and get more food. And that summer I saw my
first wild horses, I saw Western sunsets and Western sunrises and
it was just me and wild land and almost the entire charismatic
megafauna. It was pretty much still intact. The pronghorn, the
buffalo, the mule deer, the bobcat, the wild horses, golden eagles,
prairie falcons. I just fell in love with the
"That was an incredible summer for me. I
was dating a Sioux Indian woman, I started riding bulls in rodeos,
I slept in teepees, I captured my first rattlesnake, I climbed into
my first golden eagle nest. You know I had all the experiences that
any 18-year-old kid would just go nuts over. I immersed myself in
Western natural and human history."
That love of
the West is as unabashed now as it's ever been in a scientist who
is also working to rehabilitate his overgrazed 140-acre tract of
ranchland half an hour from Fort Collins. At home and at work, his
gospel is this: Westerners should work together to maintain healthy
land and biodiversity. He also believes that conserving the beauty
of the Western landscape depends on the survival of large ranches,
which can be safe havens for biodiversity. "Thirty-five acre
ranchettes and trophy homes are not the answer, they are the
problem," he says.
places all this energy might have hit a wall of concrete. Yet
Knight's prodding has been welcomed by a university administration
led by President Al Yates, who has urged his faculty to become more
relevant and to change what some considered CSU's image as "the
best-kept secret in Colorado."
"They promoted me
early and tenured me early," says Knight. "The people in the
College of Natural Resources are as big-hearted a group of people
as you could find anywhere."
Alan Covich, head
of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Biology, calls Knight
"astounding. The guy is extremely productive and he is thorough and
conscientious about follow through." A grin creeps across Covich's
face as he continues, "And I would say Rick keeps me fully
informed. I have four file folders of Rick Knight memos. I have met
a lot of people off campus who have never met Rick, but they have
gotten a memo from him."
George Wallace, an
associate professor in the Department of Natural Resource
Recreation and Tourism and a close friend, considers Knight unusual
because he goes out of his way to talk with other faculty. "He
believes in an interdisciplinary approach." If Knight has an idea
to share or a compliment to pay, he drops by and sees his dean, he
knocks on his department head's door and even pursues the president
of the university through the lunch room.
not lost his authentic interest and enthusiasm for the issues that
should drive a university," says Wallace. "He elevates the energy
of other people. He has definitely made it (the College of Natural
Resources) a different place."
The day started long before
dawn, but at 5 p.m. Knight is still at full throttle. He rifles
through files, grabs a ringing phone, finishes off another memo,
and strides through the hall as students form small eddies in his
Back in the office, he says: "Let me read
you this one quote. It is really one of my favorites," he says and
rolls quickly to his bookcase. Alas, the book is missing. For a
moment he is silenced. Then he is flabbergasted. "I can't believe
it. I loaned it to a student. They know how I feel about these
books. Books have been my rudder in life." After a quick recovery,
he dials a graduate student on the floor below and moments later
the young man arrives with his own copy of Aldo Leopold's writings.
Knight is delighted.
* "We end I think at what might be called
the standard paradox of the twentieth century: Our tools are better
than we are, and grow faster than we do. They suffice to crack the
atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest
task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling
it." "'''" n