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Rangeland program preps students for success

Currently, about 60 undergraduates are enrolled in the program.

Brooke Ortel, Writer/editor

May 8, 2024

6 Min Read
Wyoming rangeland
Wyoming rangelandUSDA ARS

Wyoming is a rangeland state, known for its vast expanses of public lands and rich agricultural history. It’s no surprise that the state’s only four-year university is home to one of the top rangeland ecology and management programs in the country.

UW’s rangeland ecology and watershed management program is one of 14 undergraduate programs in North America accredited by the Society for Range Management, a professional society for land managers, ranchers, scientists, educators, students, and conservationists.

“Accreditation with the Society for Range Management means that our program meets standards that support a rigorous, sustainable educational program,” says Jeff Beck, program lead and professor of ecosystem science and management.

UW’s range program was first accredited by the society in 1990 and undergoes periodic reviews in order to maintain accreditation.

Currently, about 60 undergraduates are enrolled in the Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management (REWM) Program, nearly two-thirds of whom are in-state students. Tim Collier, head of the UW Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, estimates that about 90 percent of last year’s graduates secured jobs in resource management at graduation.

Career prep

Whether students are interested in pursuing a career in land management or returning home to the family ranch, the REWM program sets them up for success.

Many REWM graduates go on to work with federal and state land management agencies, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, NRCS, and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Others pursue careers with environmental consulting firms, private ranches, non-governmental organizations, and land reclamation agencies.

“If I had to do it over again, I’d do the exact same thing, because there’s a lot of opportunities with this degree,” says Jason Pindell, a REWM alum and rangeland management specialist for the US Forest Service. “Currently there is a pretty high demand for rangeland management specialists, but that’s not the only place that I’ve seen my cohort go to work. There’s a lot of private opportunities too.”

Fellow REWM graduate Russell Burton, for instance, serves as a natural resources field services project manager for Y2 Consultants. At UW, he double majored in REWM and wildlife and fisheries biology and management, a decision he says has been key to his success.

Burton advises current students to consider taking classes in other departments or colleges to support their career goals. For him, that meant forging a path that blended traditional rangeland ecology courses with wildlife ecology classes and working under researchers at the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory.

A well-rounded program

UW’s first range management course was taught in 1936. Since then, the REWM program has grown and evolved with the field. Building on its roots in rangeland education, the program has expanded to include coursework in hydrology and watershed management as well. 

The REWM degree isn’t just for students with agricultural experience, REWM grad and UW Extension educator Abby Perry points out. Often, those with other backgrounds bring unique perspectives to the classroom.

“I would tell any prospective student that if they like to work with their hands and be outdoors, then the Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management program is the place for them,” comments current student Anna Krepel.

Degree requirements include 18 credit hours in core topics such as principles of rangeland management, plant identification, vegetation management, herbivore ecology and nutritional management, and rangeland monitoring and assessment. The program also offers courses in soil science, remote sensing, statistics, hydrology, and animal biology.

For students interested in pursuing a specialty area within the program, the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management offers minors in insect biology, forest resources, soil science, and reclamation and restoration ecology.

Pindell encourages incoming students to consider pursuing at least one minor. He earned two minors, one in forest resources and the other in soil science. He’s found these additions invaluable in his current role, which involves grazing management in the Shoshone National Forest.

The REWM degree can also be a valuable foundation for pursuing a secondary degree in a related field. For Perry, that meant completing a master’s in agricultural and applied economics. The combination helped her develop creative problem-solving skills she relies on daily as an extension educator, she reports.

Field experience

In addition to classroom learning, many REWM students participate in faculty-led research projects and field-based summer internships. Krepel, currently a junior, is looking forward to working as a field technician at UW’s McGuire Ranch this summer under the guidance of a UW Ph.D. student.

“It’s an applied science program,” Perry explains. “Not only are you getting the experience of going to college and being responsible for yourself, but you also learn about the science, you learn about recording data, you learn about going out in the field—all that applies to a lot of different fields.”

The REWM program also prepares students for external fieldwork experiences that complement their degree. For example, both Burton and Pindell supplemented their UW education through seasonal jobs with land management organizations like the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Memorable mentors

For many REWM alumni, outstanding faculty mentorship was a cornerstone of their undergraduate experience.

“I remember realizing—I think in one of Jeff Beck’s classes—that part of why I’m successful is because I’ve been able to build a relationship with a professor,” Perry recalls. “That building a relationship pushed me to be the best that I could be because there was substance there. I wasn’t just another name on the paper.”

According to Krepel, that’s still very much the case. “Forming personal relationships with the faculty in the program is easy and rewarding,” she comments. “That would also be my advice—that they [new students] ought to get connected with faculty as soon as possible.”

Pindell agrees. “I think the best part about it was that the instructors were all very approachable,” he reflects. “I felt like the instructors really wanted to see folks succeed.”

Finding community and fulfillment

The REWM program isn’t just about faculty mentorship and outstanding academics. Engaging with other students, alumni, and professionals is a key part of the program as well—even after graduation.

For current students, that might mean joining a structured extracurricular program like Range Club; for others, it might simply mean connecting informally with peers who share similar interests.

“UW’s range program is ranked as one of the top in the country, and even on my short tour, I got a feel for the strong sense of community at UW, especially in the College of Ag,” says Krepel. “I would recommend they [incoming students] join Range Club…Since it’s a conglomeration of upperclassmen and lower classmen, they can often give advice on which classes to take with which professors, in what order, and what are fun elective classes to take.”

Range Club also helps students connect with faculty mentors and prepares students for competitions organized by the Society for Range Management.

While Burton wasn’t significantly involved in the club as a student, he’s taken an active role in the Society for Range Management as a working professional. He is currently president-elect for the society’s Wyoming section and serves as chair of the Wildlife Habitat Committee at the national level. He especially values the service component of his work, prioritizing opportunities to help rangeland professionals and land managers connect with members of the ranching community through field tours and other events.

Somehow, Burton also finds time to serve Sublette County as a 4-H volunteer. “When you get value out of what you’re doing, it’s less work,” he says. “If you like the work you do, it’s not work anyways. I think that’s my biggest take-home for future students.”

To learn more about the REWM program, visit https://bit.ly/uw-rewm or contact Beck at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Brooke Ortel

Writer/editor, University of Wyoming

Brooke Ortel is a writer and editor for University of Wyoming Extension.

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