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Rangeland ecology and watershed management program hits high water mark in nation

UW’s rangeland ecology and watershed management (REWM) degree program has reached the top. 

The undergraduate program in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management (ESM) became the largest enrolled program of its type in the nation in 2012 with 114 students.

The program has built itself up and become appealing to students at the university.

“I can understand why it is the highest enrolled program,” says alumna Katelyn Schade, who graduated in 2013 with a REWM degree. “Majoring in REWM allows a student to get field and lab experience in all of the crucial components that make up functioning rangelands.” 

The best part of the program is the diverse classes, allowing the study of soils, vegetation, watershed interaction and livestock and wildlife, and the professors, says Schade, a Fort Sumner, N.M.,native. 

“This program has some of the most amazing professors and staff members at the University of Wyoming,” she adds. 

Her goal freshmen year was to work with the Wyoming Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or with a private consulting company. 

“After interning with NRCS for two summers, I decided to pursue a career after graduation, and I am currently working with the Worland field office.”

Many different focuses

The range management field incorporates so many different aspects that the field is ever-changing and complex, says senior Amanda O’Donnell of Spring Creek, Nev.   

“The complexity and uniqueness of each situation is something that I truly enjoy. It presents an opportunity to learn more about the system and try new techniques,” she says. “The fact that the range program has surpassed all other range programs in the country is amazing. I was quite excited when I heard this. I am part of UW’s history, and my efforts today can only help to improve the program for future students.”

Opportunities after

graduation

The program has great opportunities for students after graduation. Students can look into careers involved with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service, NRCS and many others. 

“These are just some of the top employers,” says Professor John Tanaka, who adds the support from the college and the state of Wyoming has helped this program grow. 

 Tanaka has been head of the department for four years and says he has strived to make it the best program possible for undergraduate and graduate levels. 

“There are more jobs than there are students both nationwide and in Wyoming,” he says. “Most students who want a job can find one. There are also summer jobs and permanent jobs after graduation.” 

Importance

This is an important degree for many reasons. 

“Some, if not many, students graduating with degrees in range science or range management will eventually be responsible for the sustainable management of much of the rangeland in the western United States including those in the Great Plains,” notes Rick Peterson, NRCS state rangeland management specialist. “It is critical that these students have a sound understanding of rangeland ecology and the effects of management and natural disturbances of these ecosystems.” 

Peterson adds, “Students with these skills will be valuable assets to land management agencies, consulting firms and the ranching industries.” 

O’Donnell wants to return to her home state after graduation to implement what she’s learned to improve the rangelands of northern Nevada. 

“I would particularly like to work with private landowners to help them improve their rangeland management,” says O’Donnell. “The ESM department and its program’s success are largely connected to the college. The college’s welcoming air and openness to its students is what has allowed the range program to expand. The college can reach a larger audience, and the department provides more detail information.”

Opportunities for

involvement

The department also offers an abundance of undergraduate student organizations such as the Range Club, Reclamation Outreach and Research, Entomology Club, Soil and Water Conservation Society Student Chapter and the Agroecology Club. 

Students have plenty of opportunities to be involved and continue their learning of rangelands and management practices. 

“The ESM department is quite involved in the activities of the range club and is very supportive,” says O’Donnell, secretary of the Student Range Club. 

The degree program is so hands-on and interactive that, when asked if the enrollment numbers were expected to increase, Tanaka says, “Yes and no. I think there is potential for them to grow, but we are reaching the capacity in the core classes. We do a lot of outdoor research, so the space is limited.”

This article is courtesy of UW and was written by Carolyn Anne Hageman, an intern for UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.