Reno, Nev. - The hall of the University of Nevada's College of Agriculture is lined with dusty black-and-white photographs of former professors, peering knowingly from below their cowboy hats. Hudson Glimp seems like he would fit right in among his predecessors on the wall, with a strong voice straight off his native west Texas plains, a big belt buckle and cowboy boots. The bookshelves in his office adjoining the college's animal production lab are lined with 30 years' worth of the Journal of Animal Science and videos with names like Ultrasound Pregnancy Testing for Sheep.
But these days, the
traditional "feed "em and weigh "em" research for which the lab was
built no longer holds his attention. Instead, he focusses on the
very future of his field and the world in which his students will
"The question is no longer which kind
of sheep I should raise and how to manage them," Glimp says, "but
whether I can have them at all. We're not giving students the
skills to handle the conflicts we already know exist. We're feeding
them to the lions."
Glimp knows about conflicts
between livestock and land firsthand. Before coming to the
University of Nevada, he was director of a Department of
Agriculture Sheep Experiment Station on the Idaho side of
Yellowstone National Park. Three national forests, the Bureau of
Land Management and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition were all
concerned - and very vocal - about the land Glimp thought was his
to experiment with.
convinced that we as scientists would have to get off our high
horses "'here are the facts, take "em or leave "em' - and recognize
that values and beliefs were valid parts of the process," Glimp
says. "Traditional approaches to technical decisions are not
capable of handling the emotions of frustration, fear and even
anger that are often inherent in diverse constituencies. I didn't
know how to handle that part of it. Nor did others."
The art of
When he came to Nevada to take an
endowed chair dedicated to research and extension work, Glimp
sought colleagues to help him and his students figure out how to
manage such conflicts. He found Mike Havercamp and Dave Torell.
Havercamp is a soft-spoken professor in the Department of Human
Development and Family Studies who teaches community development,
conflict resolution and facilitation. Torell was a cooperative
extension livestock specialist in Winnemucca who was trying to
negotiate the reintroduction of elk in northeastern Nevada.
The three of them created a program called
"Reaching Sustainable Agreements' in 1992. Two years ago, it was
formally organized as a cooperative extension program involving 16
faculty in Nevada and four other states.
their most visible success so far, Torell facilitated an agreement
to "put the elk back in Elko County" on the 4,725-acre Howard Ranch
in northeastern Nevada. The ranch was bought by the Rocky Mountain
Elk Foundation to reintroduce elk, a move supported by the Nevada
Department of Wildlife and the Humboldt National Forest but opposed
by local ranchers near the Bruneau River.
address ranchers' concerns, the foundation asked Torell to
facilitate the committee that would guide the elk reintroduction.
After several years of negotiations, the committee unanimously
agreed to a plan that parceled out the available forage between the
elk and surrounding ranches. The first elk were released along the
river last year.
"This kind of
collaborative process is the only way I know of right now, in the
current environment we are living and working in, to have a win-win
situation," says Betsy Macfarlan, executive director of the Nevada
Cattlemen's Association and a participant in the group. "We viewed
elk as long-legged cows with no respect for fences. But as long as
we keep the management team together, I think we can successfully
resolve any problems that come up."
efforts of the Reaching Sustainable Agreements program have enjoyed
such concrete success. Negotiations to end long-running legal feuds
on the Truckee River broke down last year.
Glimp insists the project was not a failure. "I may be grasping at
straws," he says, "but serious discussions are still going on out
of the public eye among people who didn't talk to each other
How do you measure success if falling
short of reaching an agreement cannot be called a failure? Glimp
says evaluating the success of decisions designed to be sustainable
over the long term is impossible to do in the short term.
"Unfortunately," he says, "we are so new that none of the
agreements have been out there long enough for us to dissect the
Glimp considers the work both an art
and a science. "We would hope decisions are based on good science,"
he says. "But their implementation is truly an art."
Glimp says his colleagues in the university
"accept but don't embrace" the Reaching Sustainable Agreements
program. "This kind of work takes the university out of its comfort
zone," he says. "And some scientists feel that conflict resolution
is totally inappropriate for researchers. But that's a cop-out. I
tell them: "If you've got a better way to see that good science is
utilized and emotions minimized in good decisions, show me."
University of Nevada economist Tom Harris
gives Glimp's efforts the nod. "He is getting people to talk," says
Harris. "If it stops people from blowing up buildings, it's good."
For Glimp this work is largely a labor of love,
an emotional response to a crisis he fears will make livestock
science irrelevant. The annual budget for the Reaching Sustainable
Agreements program has been a paltry $12,000 to $15,000 per year.
But an endowed chair funded by the Rafter 7 Ranch in Yerington has
given Glimp intellectual freedom; it allows him to write, set his
own research agenda and limit his teaching load to one class a
year. Glimp has responded by becoming an evangelist for change,
believing it the only way ranching and agriculture and the
land-grant colleges' traditional calling will
"We've got to get out of the ivory
tower and the comfort zone of scientific facts," he says. "We in
the university run the risk of being either irrelevant or full of
Former High Country News intern Donica Harrington writes from Reno,
Nevada. Jon Christensen writes from Carson City,