Skinner receives Ag Citizen of Year AwardWritten by Virginia Wakefield
August 1999 State Fair Edition
Quentin D. Skinner of Laramie is co-recipient of this year’s Ag Citizen of the Year Award. Dr. Skinner is professor of Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Wyoming.
Commenting on the recognition, Dr. Skinner said, “This means so much to me, to receive this special award from the people I have been given the opportunity to serve. I’m really quite dumbfounded.
“For the past twenty years, in my position as a classroom teacher, scientific researcher, and an extension specialist/community teacher, I’ve tried to tell the environmental story of ag. Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers are environmental stewards who have made the state and its landscape what it is today. The ag industry has been given an unfair shake in the way it has been perceived for suing land and water resources. Most people believe that Wyoming has always looked the way it does now, but it’s through ag and water development that we have today’s wonderful resources. That visitors believe are the State’s strong attributes.”
He tells the story to all who will listen throughout Wyoming, the U.S. and the world. While he has focused his efforts in watershed management for two decades, and he is equally recognized for his interests and accomplishments in grass taxonomy, rangeland plant ecology, grazing management, and water quality. The government and administrators of Turkey’s Eastern Anatolia Watershed Rehabilitation Project have consulted Dr. Skinner since 1993 for his expertise in watershed and riparian zone management in semiarid regions.
Dr. Skinner discussed these issues as they relate to agriculture and its future.
“The U.S. appears to be turning from an agricultural production nation into a consumer nation. The country of Turkey reminds me of where the U.S. was from the 1930s to the 1950s. Turkey knows the value of developing its watershed, of feeding its own 65 million people and of exporting food. Turkey contains the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where it has developed some of the largest dams I the world. These rivers run through the border countries of Iraq, Iran and Syria. Turkey’s leaders come here for our expertise, but they’ve given me a different perspective on taking care of people. What agriculture really does is that it takes care of all people by feeding them.”
Dr. Skinner is concerned about agriculture in the U.S. right now. He noted that teachers, from the elementary grades through the universities, don’t have textbooks and material “which paint a correct picture of feeding our nation. You know whose fault it is? It’s the fault of people like myself for not writing the texts!”
He pointed to our own situation, the front range of Colorado and Wyoming.
“Look at the growth, then wonder where these people will get their water! Those who are crying the loudest about open space and who are expressing strict environmental views, these people are still watering their lawns and taking showers. This water has to come from somewhere, places like Wyoming, which has used the water for agriculture and has created fisheries, which has built our wildlife habitat and the riparian areas enjoyed by recreationists.
“When you change the use of water and take it away from our landscapes, people who enjoy these attributes will be the losers. Wyoming will revert to looing more like it did before settlement. It was not a very pretty picture. This picture is not common knowledge, but it should be, because agriculture, water development, and hard work have made Wyoming what it is today.”
He believes, however that Wyoming is ahead of most of the other western states because of its wise water laws and the wisdom with which its water has been developed.
Dr. Skinner is putting off is plans for retirement to take on a new challenge. “The coalbed methane industry in Campbell County is a new and wonderful source of clean gas and water. Campbell Country, the gas industry, landowners and state government have asked the UW Cooperative Extension Service and our department to help answer question about how the growth of this industry will alter local landscapes and soil/plant environments. Because UW and our department have the unique Environmental Simulation Laboratory, we believe we an help put this new water supply to the best beneficial use for the state and the people in Campbell County.”
Dr. Skinner, who helped design the Environmental Simulation Lab located at UW, says this laboratory was built to help solve soil/plant/water/climate interacting issues such as these coming to the front in developing the methane gas industry.
He described the labs as a concrete pit, 20x24 feet, about the size of a swimming pool.
“It’s a holding vessel for soil systems covered by an environmental chamber, with rainmakers and sunlight, so where in the world and put the hydrologic cycle in it. It should be perfect for getting control data as water and gas are developed in Campbell County.
Dr. Skinner presently serves on the Governor’s Water and Waste Advisory Board. IN 1998 he chaired the Riparian Zone Management Committee for the Society of Range Management. He has served on a variety of water resource and energy committees. He has written extensively for scientific journals and has published a book, Grasses of Wyoming.
In addition to the Society for Range Management, he is a member of the American Water Research Association, Sigma Xi, and the Council of Agricultural Science and Technology. He has received many awards for teaching, research, and stewardship.
Dr. Skinner was born and raised in Pinedale, where his brothers are still outfitters.
“I have all three of my degrees from UW. I’m one of those young people who wouldn’t leave the state. Its sparse population is one of the biggest reasons I did not leave!”
He earned his B.S. in Biological Science from the University of Wyoming, and then served as an infantry officer and Olympic Biathlon Team candidate in the Army. He said, “I got into my present line of work because I wasn’t accepted into dental school after I got out of the military!”
From observing the environment and ecology in growing up near Pinedale, he had begun to wonder about the effect of human and animal activity on watersheds. One thing led to another. Water activity is tied to the land, which in turn depends on the plant life of watersheds. To understand plant life by knowing the taxonomy of grasses is important. He looked for the best professors in the country on grasses and found Allen Beetle at the University of Wyoming, where Skinner earned his M.S. and, later, his PhD in Range Management.
“To me, Wyoming was the place I could study the water, the land and the grasses in the best way without human influence. I fought to stay here. Thank God, I’ve been successful.”
ON the other hand, his three children have had t leave the state of Wyoming to make a living. “I kind of resent that, although I do understand it. I’ve told them the only way they will come back is if they can make a niche so they can afford to return. I’m proud of them, but I miss having my children and other people’s children here to promote Wyoming’s heritage. Which brings me back to ag and ag people. They are trying to preserve this way of life and this heritage for our children. IT appears to me that society is doing what it can to make traveling the road as rough as possible.”
Dr. Skinner’s wife, Arlene, often travels with him. They enjoy their two granddaughters. If and when Quentin Skinner retires, he’s considering writing not only textbooks but – more important to him – children’s books. Thus he will try to preserve and share his knowledge of the human connection to water, land and agriculture.