AoR 106: SRM Keynote Address "Working Across Disciplines" with Tip Hudson & Jeanne Pfander

Rangeland science is not a single discipline but a synthesis of numerous scientific topics and lived experiences. Successful management of rangelands requires knowledge of soils, water, climate, plants, livestock, wildlife, humans, and much more. It is impossible to master all topics in a rangeland textbook or land management handbook. It takes a unique and confident person to recognize their limitations and reach across disciplines to accomplish the art of rangeland management. A successful example of this discipline mixing is the Rangeland Partnership, a group of rangeland extension professionals
and librarians who work side by side to make relevant, authoritative information available to land managers. Accomplishments of the Rangeland Partnership include the Rangeland Gateway and RangeDocs which are searchable databases to help rangeland managers find high quality information. In this plenary we will hear from Tip Hudson, a rangeland & livestock Extension specialist, and Jeanne Pfander, an agricultural librarian, who discuss the value of reaching across disciplines to accomplish collaborative management. Eric Winford, Associate Director of the Idaho Rangeland Center, moderates this discussion. This is a recording from the SRM annual meeting in February 2023.



>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at This episode is another recording from the Society for Range Management's 2023 Annual Conference Plenary Sessions. This one with Jeanne Pfander, University of Arizona librarian and me. I mentioned in the previous episode from the plenaries that the conference theme was Rangelands Without Borders. And the plenary themes were arranged around that concept. First, working across geographic borders, then working across disciplines which is this one and working across eras which we broadcast in Episode 104 with Courtney Taylor and Tim Murphy. Our session provided an example of working across disciplines, the Rangelands Partnership which is a working group of cooperative extension rangeland specialists and agricultural librarians and discussed the importance of this knowledge and skill diversity. Eric Winford with the Idaho Rangeland Center makes introductions and moderates the session.

>> Good morning, everybody. I'm going to ask everyone to start coming in. We've got another great day of the Society for Range Management meetings. OK, great. Oh, man, you guys are so nice like quiet now and everything. OK. So I'm Karen Launchbaugh, your president for a few more hours. It's been a great time serving you. And I don't think that you can rerun for this office, can you? Yeah, I got it. You know, something that just occurred to me that I didn't emphasized yesterday, any of you historians know how old the Rangeland Society is? Us, the Society for -- what? Seventy-five years. Oh, you read my -- oh, thank you. Good. Yeah, no, that's amazing. Think about the fact that we are one of the few professions that was invented in the US. Forestry was invented in Europe so it was wildlife, but range is a US invention. And it started with a bunch of what were called rangemen because it was all guys back then, mostly with the Forest Service. Oh, North America. I'm sorry. You bet. You got it. That's got it. North America, because we have range from the Arctic to the -- way down into the tropics. So, OK, thank you. Because we always, I don't know, we are the -- we were the American Society for Range Management but our profession is global. So, we're an international society. And I'm excited that we're celebrating that today. A couple of things, we are also becoming known as a little bit of renegades here at the Convention Center. We drink a lot of coffee, for example. And also, we do need -- whenever you're at a room, take a chair. We need to keep the doors open so that we don't get in trouble with the fire marshals again. OK? Couple things. One, last day of the tradeshow. It's been a great tradeshow. Make sure you go and support the artisans and see what people are doing out on the range. So please take time for that. For those of you who got business tickets for the business luncheon, I look forward to seeing you there. And then a lot of cool things happening tonight. There's university socials happening. And then there are agency gatherings, family gatherings this evening. And then of course, the dance. So, have a really great day. And rub elbows again. Get in those rooms. Find out what's going on. OK. So, I had to look up what a plenary is. A plenary is a time where you have lots of meetings and everybody comes together for one. So here we are all together for the plenary. Again, our topic this year is Rangelands Without Borders. And one of the things that rangelands are is many disciplines that have to come together in order to try to understand what's going on out on the range. So today's theme is rangelands across disciplines. And we have a little bit of thought to get us started. My good friend, Jason Karl, has agreed to get us thinking. It's kind of a moment of Zen. What does that really mean to tell these folks what you're thinking about this discipline?

>> I think it's a little too early for a Zen moment here. But can we go ahead and have the slide? Thank you. So yeah, Karen asked if I would just give a few thoughts to kind of get us going this morning and get us thinking about today's topic which is working across disciplinary boundaries. I think I have control here. And as I thought about this, to me, rangeland management and any of the natural resource management fields are what I think of as synthetic sciences. They occur at the intersection of a lot of different disciplines, so science, ecology, hydrology, soils, policy, right? All of these things come together to form these systems that we work in and that we interact with our partners in. And I would suggest that for any project that we engage in or any sort of main issue that we're trying to address, we can only be successful at addressing those if we are operating across this sort of broad spectrum of these different disciplines. And I would go so far as to say that we probably don't do as good of a job at this as we should. I think that we should be more interdisciplinary than we are. And I think I'm probably just as much to or could learn more for that as anybody else, too. Additionally, I think rangeland management is what Michael Crawford in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft called a chaotic science. And a chaotic science is one that is underpinned by basic principles and theories and facts, but for which there's an intense amount of random effects or chance events that can influence, in some cases overwhelm those theories and principles. And because it's a chaotic science, it makes it very difficult to predict the outcomes of events or the outcomes of actions that we take. And so combine those two, right, and then think about how we educate students or how we educate ourselves. And our curricula at a university is much focused on trying to expose students to all of these different disciplines. In fact, at our university, we reach out to and try to use the classes in all of these other departments which can make some real challenges in trying to coordinate a, you know, a degree curriculum. But we sort of recognize that we need to tap and to bring in all of these different experts to create what in essence is the student who is a polyglot, the student who can understand and speak the language of all of these different disciplines and bring these ideas to bear on these different challenges, these different problems that we have as a profession. And this kind of leads me to thinking about what's the danger of this. And I think the danger of this is arming people with a little bit of knowledge and they think that they sort of know it all. And this I think idea really came to be known as sort of the engineer's hubris. Back in the 1950s, the US started this big campaign, big foreign policy campaign of international development. So, large-scale tech transfer projects. In part as an effort to [inaudible] sort of globally, right, we, the US implemented all of these projects all over the world. And a lot of these development projects that I think were well-intentioned perhaps to serve communities and people, a lot of these projects either failed outright or they didn't have the impact that was desired or in some cases actually caused harm. And the reason that that occurred is that they were not done in context of those local situations and those local communities. And they were done as sort of a one-size-fits-all approach, right? It was we know best, we will tell you what to do and implement these projects. And I think that we're sort of at risk of doing that. Because we train ourselves and we train our students very broadly in these different disciplines, there's a risk that we can think, "Oh, I've got this knowledge. You know, I can handle this. Let's go in and fix this problem here," right? When in reality, it's just the opposite, right? And we need to take that knowledge that we have and understand that we know a little bit about a lot of things and maybe are expert in a few things. And that becomes the basis to then draw a group of people together to address these problems. And so, the antidote to this hubris is a good old-fashioned dose of humility. And I was raised with the I guess with the philosophy in my household that you can either choose to be humble or that life will instruct you in how to be humbled. And I think for us, for our profession, humility looks like or interdisciplinarity is a form of humility. The reaching out to other people, the valuing of the knowledge and experiences that other people have, not just within their scientific domains but within their life experience domains, within their different value systems of bringing these people together to work collectively on a problem is a form of humility. And it is what we need to address the challenges that we have in our profession. So, just to wrap this up, this quote from E.O. Wilson in his book Consilience. And this was published in 1998 so this is 25 years ago. And he said 25 years ago that we are drowning in information. And if we were drowning in information 25 years ago, then we are well and truly drowned in information now. OK? The situation has not improved. It has only gotten worse in the 25 years since this was published. And I would argue that there's no group of people that are better positioned to sort of tackle this challenge to be these synthesizers or to solve challenges, there's no group that's better positioned to do that than we are as a society of rangeland management professionals. So with that, I'd like to introduce Eric Winford. He's the Associate Director of the Rangeland Center here with the University of Idaho. And he's going to moderate this morning's plenary discussion. So, Eric.

>> Thank you, Jason. And that's a great intro. Jason as editor of the rangeland's journal knows a lot about the different disciplines that rangeland scientists and managers use in their everyday lives. And we're today going to be talking about working across disciplines, and especially how interdisciplinary groups can tackle challenges, complex issues and how that's a very essential skill and maybe absolutely necessary for the success of tackling those challenges. And we're going to bring up a group of people who are working, have been working on interdisciplinary groups for years and tackling one of the greatest challenges in front of rangelands. And that challenge is information. Information is all around us and the [inaudible] has been called the information superhighway. And at times it can feel like that. If you're in the middle lane with cars zipping past you in every direction, not able to find the exit that you need. But there's good stuff out there. Did you know that right now there are 4.6 billion pages on the web? And how did I know that? From the web? Yeah, that's right. Me, I prefer bouncing down a dirt road looking at the scenery. And perhaps that's a good reference for how I prefer to consume information from books and radio. But even in those sources, there's a lot of information out there. And so the problem is not just finding information. There's plenty of that. It's finding the information that's appropriate to your site. Information that is trustworthy. And information that you can interpret and successfully apply. And working on those challenges today are the two people I want to bring up. They're part of the interdisciplinary group called the Rangeland Partnership. And so, Tip and Jeanne, would you come up? So, Jeanne Pfander works from the University of Arizona Libraries. She's affiliated with the College of Ag and Life Sciences and Vet Departments and many, many others. For over 25 years, Jeanne has been finding ways to get information to rangeland managers. Back in 1997, she was working on a project to put rangeland resources, science information on the World Wide Web. And that's the day when modems still existed, so definitely not the information superhighway we have now. For several years, she was working to digitize old volumes of the journal rangelands and make them open access. So right now, we have -- you can find every volume from 1979 to 2020 at the UA Libraries. Tip Hudson is a Washington State University Extension in Kittitas County. Tip is a range and natural resources extension agent. And I first met Tip nine years ago when I was working for the Washington Department of Natural Resources in Ellensburg. And we had a very complicated and contentious allotment permit that we needed to work through. And we, as so often, we pulled together a coordinated resource management group and Tip was part of that group. And he contributed a huge amount to that. And I've always appreciated Tip's calm and clear demeanor and his really articulate and insightful comments and suggestions. And so, I'm very excited to be here up on the stage with him today to talk about crossing disciplinary boundaries through information. OK. So for both of you, you have in your daily lives deal with information. And you're different parts of the information superhighway. Could you explain how -- what your role is in dealing with information and how working across disciplinary boundaries is crucial for success in your professional lives?

>> OK. I think I'm on. Great. Well, as Eric mentioned, I'm a University of Arizona librarian at the main campus in Tucson. Before I continue, I would like to begin by respectfully acknowledging the University of Arizona. A land grant institution is on the land and territories of the Indigenous peoples. Today, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes with Tucson being home to the O'odham and the Yaqui. University is committed to diversity and inclusion, build sustainable relationships with sovereign native nations and indigenous communities through education, offerings, partnerships and community service. At a personal level, I truly believe our university, our city, our state and our nation are greatly enriched by the knowledge and wisdom of those who have lived on these lands long before this country was created as the United States of America. So, why is a librarian speaking in this plenary session? We'll get into the details of our cross-disciplinary collaborations between librarians and range people. But I want to step back and talk about librarians. So, what do people think about when they think about librarians? What do you think about librarians? Well, OK, there's certain stereotypes in the media. Oh, sorry, right. Yeah. Yeah, sorry about that. I didn't have my mic up. In any case, yeah, there are a lot of kind of I think stereotypes that you see in the media. I don't know. Sensible shoes, cardigans, shy introverts. You know, there's also sort of maybe the other kind of stereotype that's coming I think, I'm glad to see. You know, feisty librarians. You know, fighting for freedom of information. You know, librarians that, you know, made sure that the information of the cultures was preserved during times of war. So yeah, there's a lot of different ideas about what is a librarian? What does a librarian do? And, you know, I do want to say -- well, and then one of my favorites or maybe those of you who saw the Ghostbusters movies, you know, the eerie librarian, ghost librarian in the stacks or the librarian that always shushes, you know. And I often tell people, "Well, you know, it's usually the people in the libraries or students or whatever that are shushing the librarians because we're talking out loud to each other or to others." In any case, yeah, you know, so there's all those stereotypes. But the one I think that rings true is we are seen as book people, readers. And, you know, so really not all stereotypes are that far off the mark. Have you heard of the Japanese word tsundoku? Tsundoku, sorry. As defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary, it is the practice of buying a lot of books and keeping them in a pile because you intend to read them but have not done so yet. Yes, so I can tell there's probably -- this resonates with some of you anyway. It can also be used the term to refer to the pile of books themselves or itself. I confess I am a long-term practitioner of tsundoku and there are tsundoku or stacks of books and magazines here and there by my office or my home. And this doesn't count the audio books, the e-books or online newspapers on my iPhone. I love to read fiction, nonfiction. I read across a wide range of disciplines, topics and even reader levels, from children's literature on up. To me, reading is like a conversation with ideas, with authors. And I usually have several conversations going on at the same time. Yes, I know it sounds a little crazy. But back to business, what do we actually do and how does it relate to this plenary talk? Well, my job description says that I'm the liaison librarian for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona which is part of the Division of Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences and Cooperative Extension. Oh, and by the way, I'm also the liaison for the College of Veterinary Medicine and a few other UA units and programs. So given the wide range of disciplines even just in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alone from Ag and Resource Economics to Family and Consumer Sciences which has the Fashion Industry Program to Nutritional Sciences, to the School of Natural Resources and the Environment where the Rangelands Program is, one could say I am a generalist. There's no way I can know everything or be a specialist in all those subject areas. And so, you know, I rely on the specialists and a team of specialists that the library has. And we might talk more about that later. But really, the ultimate goal of librarians and libraries is to help people find information that they need to help with decision-making and practical applications. How can I do -- for example, how can I complete my course assignments? Or, you know, how can I do research on this topic? Or all kinds of decision-making and practical applications. How do other people do these things? So, you know, when you think about it, this sounds familiar really with all of what you're doing. You know, librarians and especially extension folks have a lot in common, mission to make authoritative information available to our communities. So, we'll talk further about some of the details of our specific program. Yup, yup. Yeah, I totally forgot about the slides. Sorry about that. There you go.

>> Let's see if we can figure out how to make the slides. Go ahead.

>> Some of my slides.

>> What's that word again? The Japanese word?

>> Oh, tsundoku.

>> Tsundoku.

>> Tsundoku, sorry.

>> What's the Japanese word for the pile of books that you're currently working on and you've been trying to finish for the last year or reading through for the second time and you haven't finished yet? That's the word I'm looking for. Yeah, this is really intriguing. I think that because of that glut of information and we think that this is new and I truly think that it is at a whole new level. But some people may be aware that even King Solomon said about 3,000 years ago that of the making of books, there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh. But we definitely are awash in information now. Then because of that, I think that librarians, far from being obsolete, are more important than ever because of the glut of information. Vannevar Bush, a name that I had not heard of before, was an electrical engineer at MIT back in the 1930s and '40s. And he famously lamented the problems of information overload back in the 1930s, specifically in the realm of scientific discovery. Then he actually proposed a knowledge machine that he called a Memex that would allow researchers to read materials stored in microfilm. But then this machine would create associative indexes, quote, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another item. And I think what's intriguing that we sort of have that now with hypertext. In fact, he's sometimes credited as being the inventor of the idea of hypertext. But what I think is intriguing is that he hoped back in 1945 that this would result in using scientific knowledge to promote human flourishing instead of human incineration and that it would translate into virtue. But indexed information doesn't automatically lead to virtuous application. Now, we certainly have a lot of indexed information everywhere and I don't get the impression that virtue is on the rise, no matter how you define it. So I do think we need librarians and extension professionals more than ever. Now, it's not just to amass collections and transfer information, it's to apply some events to the ocean of information and to direct people to valuable and relevant information. And I think that's always been the true role of a professional or a professor, one who professes competency in the field, is making choices about what content to give to other learners because we have a pretty limited time to take in information. And in every selection is a decision not to take in all the other things that you haven't selected. It is a choice. Now, so I'm not saying that, you know, your judgment, any of you as a professional is flawless but that's not really the point. The important thing, what might be called the sine qua non is human connection, because knowledge is not shared in bits and bytes like Jason was saying but in conversation inside relationship. In my world, Rancher Miller is not going to ask for my help with something even though he knows I may have something useful to say about it unless he knows me. And not just knows of me as a range professional and is aware of some knowledge that I might have that he might benefit from, but knows me as a person and trust me. Because even if our goal is just information transfer which is a really sterile term, a transfer doesn't happen outside of human relationship. We do work across field borders, jurisdictional borders, geographical borders, disciplinary borders, personality disorders, I mean borders, social borders and barriers, but all of those require bridges inside of interpersonal relationships. I know I'm a broken record here but again, the existence of data, you know, even these curated syntheses of data is not applied wisdom in the real world. We interpret data in relationship with others and we interpret it through ideological lenses which both help and hurt. They both focus and blind our seeing. But then we move one more step toward what we could call wisdom. We take action in the world based on a gigantic number of influences, many of them subconscious. And the rational analysis of data is only one of them. And we who were sort of in the scientific community tend to think that if we just give other people the same information we have, that they'll make the same decisions that we would make with the same information. And it doesn't work that way. There's a quote that I love from a guy named Damon of Athens who was a musicologist, I don't know how long ago, but a long time. He said, "Let me write the songs of a nation and I don't care who writes its laws." His point is that we make decisions, we do things based on an act of the will and those are usually our acts of the will are based on more than just the rational analysis of data. So I don't even know what's on the top of the pop charts right now, but I suspect this would prove my point. If you took the top five songs, print out the lyrics and read them to your children or your grandchildren and tell me whether or not that's the world you want. I'm not kidding, you should try it. It will be unforgettable. Scientific fact transfer does not conserve rangelands. That requires acts of individual human will. And those are based on more than just data.

>> So, let's talk a little bit more about some projects you've been a part of that use interdisciplinary approaches to transfer information. Tip, you are the host of the Art of Range podcast which now has 99 episodes available. And Jeanne, you're part of the Rangeland Partnership and you've been a part of the project of RangeDocs which is a searchable database of scientific information of highly technical and accurate curated documents. So, tell us a little bit more about some projects you've been a part of.

>> OK, I'll start. And I am going to give you a little background on the partnership. But before we continue, I'd like, if you're willing to, any of you who have been involved with the Rangelands Partnership either as members of it or otherwise involved, you know, raise your hand. Yeah. So, it's great to see so many. I've enjoyed being here at the meeting and seeing familiar faces. So that over the years, I've become friends with, you know, known through the partnership. So, just a little bit about what the partnership is. Again, it's a multidisciplinary collaboration of range professional librarians, and in this day and age truly necessary IT experts. And we create and deliver authoritative, reliable and vetted rangeland ecology content for range managers, natural resource professionals, extension educators, decision makers and students who are invested in supporting the health and sustainability of rangelands and the communities of people. And I might add other than human people, in other words, the animals, wild or domesticated who depend on rangelands. So again, going back to the origins of the partnership in the mid-1990s, actually 1995, this started as a University of Arizona project bringing together even then librarians and rangeland experts in the University of Arizona College of Ag and Life Sciences. We received a three-year USDA ARS National Ag Library grant. And the title was Develop More Advanced Approaches to Disseminating Electronic Information. So, you know, we're still doing that actually. And it -- oh, I'm really sorry. I totally forget about this. That's why, you know. In any case, yeah, this project resulted in the development of a website called Managing Rangelands and it was part of the AgNIC, Agricultural Network Information Center, a national initiative to develop centers of excellence for different subject areas. But it was clear that, you know, I mean, we knew before we began really that rangelands don't stop at borders. And really, we needed to explore possibilities of a broader collaboration. So, in 2002, there was the first multi-institutional meeting where we brought together a number of people from land grant institutions. We invited different land grant, Western land grant institutions to join us in Tucson along with participants from -- you know, representation from the Society for Range Management, as well as, you know, the Policy Analysis Center for Western Public Lands and the coordinator from the National Ag Library for the AgNIC Program. And as the group agreed to move forward, we decided to call the group the Western Rangelands Partnership. And over the years, our name has kind of changed and we've broadened it to include, you know, additional land grant institutions, as well as other partners in collaborative initiative. And so a few highlights, you know, in -- and we worked on developing governance, the plan for the website, all these things that go into creating such a resource. And so a few highlights, in 2007, 2008, Karen Launchbaugh was our first chair of the executive committee for the rangeland -- what I'm going to call the partnership. And 2008, we became a WERA project, a WERA 1008. And since then, it has received approval for continuation in all of our subsequent review periods. In 2009, for the first time, instead of taking place in Tucson, the annual meetings were always in Tucson in the early years, we first met here in Boise, Idaho. And so, that was a new thing to start moving around the partnership, you know, states. And since then, we've met in Laramie, Wyoming, Bozeman, Anchorage, even Hawaii at Kona, Logan, Utah, all across the different states. We met again in Moscow, Idaho in 2018. And, you know, we've met last year -- well, actually, we had two years in Zoomland because of the pandemic. And finally last year, 2022, we were in Grand Junction, Colorado. And coming up this year, we'll be in Manhattan, Kansas in April. So, what we do is we've created this portal. We call it now the Rangelands Gateway. And, you know, providing access to the database of quality peer-reviewed information, you know, allowing users to discover thousands of articles, journal articles, websites, images, databases, videos, maps, reports and decision-making tools. And we've partnered with other institutions, again going beyond the western land-grant institutions, including international organizations such as the Australian Rangeland Society, the Food and Agricultural Organizations and the United Nations and the Grasslands Society of Southern Africa. So we're really going -- we try to include not just North America or the United States. And we've had success over our 20-plus years as a partnership in successfully pursuing and being awarded grant funding and the most recent project being the RangeDocs Project. And, you know, I still am not paying attention to the slides but you can see some of the images. Yeah, thanks, thanks, Tip. But anyway, we are -- that is a great example of the bringing together expertise and experiences of both librarians and range specialists, range scientists. For example -- and we played key roles for the lead institution, the University of Idaho, the co-PI with Jason Karl was a librarian, Jeremy Kenyon, and he brought a lot of expertise related to thesaurus, controlled vocabulary, metadata, that kind of thing. And others of us and with the sub-award with the University of Arizona, I was the co-PI with George Ruyle but had a really necessary team of experts there. So, you know, we've really been working as partners throughout the last 20-plus years. And I think it's been a success. So I'll hand it over to the next speaker.

>> Thank you. Let's see if I can find the slide we had up earlier. Yeah, you've heard that time is relative. It's moving faster up here. I think working across disciplinary boundaries is one of the things that range people tend to do pretty well, but there may be other kinds of social boundaries that are important to cross. And it's good to periodically ponder how we do that and not just whether we do that. So, I want to bring up this photograph which is a little bit grainy because it's actually a still shot captured from a video segment that we took on the Richards Ranch over in the Owyhee's a few years ago. I haven't seen Tony or Brenda here. But the videographer who was working on this is the same guy that handles all the audio for the Art of Range podcast. And he grew up in the city. So, he's sitting here in the grass with his camera and the tripod and he's waiting for the cows to come over the hill getting pushed by this group of people. And he sees the cows, you know, slowly coming over the hill. It's beautiful green grass. This is in May. And he said this was the first time he'd really been up close [inaudible] done like this. And the thing that struck him was that it was so beautiful which is a word that I think we don't -- maybe we're afraid to use because it doesn't sound like it's scientific. But, you know, there's this interplay between man and nature. There's producing food on otherwise wild so-called landscape, you know, without -- if we're doing it right, without compromising the integrity of the landscape, maybe even helping it a little. We could debate that for the next 100 years. But this is attractive. And this story, this picture really does play well with people that are not otherwise connected with agriculture. And I think those people are not wrong in their inexpert reaction to it. You know, people hear about factory farming and rivers catching on fire and pesticides on their pistachios. And this is definitely not that. It seems like it's maybe something north of neutral you might say. Dostoevsky said that beauty would save the world and maybe he wasn't so far off. So, we need to spend time working across these social boundaries which are probably even thicker than some of the disciplinary boundaries when we're trying to do what I call scientific work. And that requires thicker communication.

>> So, we recognize the importance of crossing disciplinary boundaries. But in our professional lives and personally, we're all driven to specialize. There's very few cross-disciplinary people out there so we have to work in groups. But how do we get out of our boxes? How do we get out of these disciplinary boxes that we get siloed into?

>> Right, here we are. OK. I have some quick ideas on that. And I think going back to the idea of reading, read widely, explore new ideas, expose yourselves of course outside our silos. You know, go to humanities, social sciences presentations or performances. And finally, I like the idea of the Latin phrase "solvitur ambulando," go for walks. That phrase is often attributed to [inaudible]. And it means it is solved by walking and is used to refer to a problem which is solved by a practical experiment. But, you know, so hands on, get out there and just do different things. And value the contributions and perspectives of the generalist to see the big picture and to connect different people together with special areas of expertise that can move our efforts forward as we work together in interdisciplinary ways. So, I'll stop there.

>> Yeah, I want to respond to that idea of specialization. I'm increasingly inclined to think that being a specialist is overrated. It's a nice sounding title and it carries the connotation of deep knowledge. I like that. That appeals to me. I use that title. But intense specialization may not be a superior way of being. You know, we use the idiom "jack of all trades, master of none" as a criticism of the generalist who we have this attitude that really can't do anything. But the original quote actually meant quite the opposite. The remainder of the quote which actually came from William Shakespeare who was referring to himself is a "jack of all trades is a master of none but is oftentimes better than a master of one." And it was mostly used as a compliment to refer to a person who is versatile and adept in many things, somebody who's omnicompetent or as Jason said earlier, a polyglot. There's a really good book by David Epstein nicely titled Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. It has nothing to do with rangelands but the word association is fortuitous, maybe even serendipitous. I don't know whether or not that's scientific. The rangeland ecology discipline is by nature the integration of knowledge from soils and plants and animals and sociology and all of the natural sciences -ologies. And a range professional is a person with range that has breadth as well as depth. And I think the strength of range science is that generalist role of integrating domains of knowledge. But in that book, Epstein makes the case that most complex problems in the real world exist in what's been called a wicked learning environment where patterns don't always repeat and where a lesson that you learned over here doesn't work over there, and where this constant synthesis and adaptive management is necessary to actually solve problems. So the person who makes good decisions, and by good I guess we mean decisions that have holistically successful results in the real world is somebody who dances across domains of knowledge. That's the phrase he uses in the book. And he makes the case pretty compellingly in the book that narrow and deep and specialized knowledge usually impairs an expert's ability to solve complex problems even inside their own domain because they have that narrow and deep creates blinders that prevent us from seeing things that are outside of that specialty. So if I have a question about a difficult range problem, I'm more likely to call up Rod Heitschmidt or Karen Launchbaugh than the postdoc with a freshly minted PhD in sagebrush metabolism, not just because I respect and value their experience but because they have breadth. You look at the breadth of topics at one of these meetings, there's not much here that isn't -- there's not much that's not here except maybe rocket science but that's just math. Range science is not rocket science, it's way more complicated than that. And that's largely why I started the podcast The Art of Range, because the number of topics that a land manager at any level has to have some fluency in is really large. And I would point out there are many more for a rancher than even somebody who is, you know, the stereotypical range con because on top of all the ecological science, the rancher has to be schooled in veterinary science, animal nutrition, accounting, the list could go on. So, just the bodies of information that we have to have some familiarity with is huge. And we call those bodies of knowledge science. And I think in reference to that, one of the things that the range profession gets right is calling it an art and a science. You know, the classical idea of an art is the application of a body of knowledge, not necessarily you acting on intuition separate from facts but it assumes adaptive application. So we say that somebody practices the art of medicine or the art of law or practices, you know, low-stress stockmanship. And part of that is recognizing that the doing of a thing takes a little more out of a person than just thinking about it. And when your livelihood depends on it, you know, now we're talking about real commitment like, you know, like a pig is committed to breakfast whereas the chicken is only involved. You know, Mark Pratt, who's a rancher here in Idaho won't make it if he doesn't make thousands of decisions over time that serve to protect the productive capacity of his land and support the animals that he runs on them which are not pigs. You know, his practice of the art of range and livestock management has serious consequences. And the ripple effects of those immediate consequences are also pretty weighty. So, yeah, this is part of the goal behind the Art of Range is to provide a breadth of information to people who can benefit from that and tend to model conversation. So, how do we get outside of our boxes? I think going to see a librarian is a good start. When was the last time you did that? Yeah, most of us do interdisciplinary work for various tasks and we work with all different kinds of people. But I think, too, working across borders can be or is more personal than that. You know, in this brave new digital world where we're all alone together, spending more time in face-to-face interaction is also a good start, sort of a back-to-the-future approach of solving problems. That's time and effort that's never wasted. You know, so as other people have said, pick up a phone and make a phone call or go for a walk with somebody instead of shooting off a text or an email. You know, but even if the only value of doing those things was accomplishing conservation of rangelands, it would be important. Interestingly, WSU's motto was world class face to face and we would all do well to make good on that. But what I want to say is that sometimes working across ideological diversity is even more difficult. And that might be -- it feels to me like that might be the new frontier in tolerance and inclusion. At least in my part of the world, these ideological barriers are definitely tougher than ethnic or gender barriers. I know there's been some progress here. You know, I'm just doing some research a little bit ago on a different project and discovered that the Western United States has a massively higher percentage of female-owned farms and ranches than the rest of the country, same thing with non-white ownership. But the true confessions here, you know, I feel like I -- my mind and my heart would be open to say a rancher from Mongolia but close to the anti-grazing activist who's a 45-year-old white male. I'm not minimizing that there are real cultural barriers between me and the Mongolian rancher but -- and I would even accept that there are barriers that I'm not even aware of, but I'm not consciously cultivating those barriers. I have to work past the ideological barrier that I create between me and the guy who sees things differently than I do and it's a much bigger social barrier that prevents things. And so I have to push through that fence. And pardon me for mixing metaphors but there is some green grass on the other side of that fence and I have experienced it. So, catch me sometime and I'll tell you an interesting story about that particular phenomenon. But we need to spend more time in what Richard Knight calls the radical middle. You can look him up on the podcast. I think our culture needs some of that as well. And let it begin with me. It's where things get done sort of like the central grasslands road map.

>> I love that metaphor. Range science is more complicated than rocket science. That's great. Jeanne, we have a few minutes left. Do you have any final thoughts for us on working across disciplinary boundaries there?

>> Yeah, I'd actually like to go back to the 2009 partnership meeting and Karen Langebaugh's summary and final thoughts at that meeting. So, why do we come? Why do we come together? Well, good things happen. We work with diverse people, a unique model involving both range specialists and librarians. We've become friends. Others are recognizing the value of this group. We have a great product and a great potential for expanding and enhancing that product. It's an interesting and timely subject. There's potential and I would say demonstrated usefulness of what we're trying to do. And it's a way to provide service to our state clients. And finally, as Margaret Mead said, we are a small, thoughtful group of committed people. So, I also have some thoughts on the future of the rangelands partnership. I've really been encouraged to see early career range specialists and librarians coming into the partnership in recent years. There are a number of us who've been here from the beginning or in the early days of the partnership. And it's great to see that, you know, sort of succession happening in terms of who's involved. I also see continued success in the Rangelands Partnership as members work together to seek funding from sources that put high value on interdisciplinary, multi-institutional collaborations. And our collaboration with the Society for Range Management established from the very beginning even back in the '90s will continue. I see that continuing as a mutually beneficial relationship. And finally, I think we've got the excitement and future International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists. We'll continue to -- the partnership will continue to demonstrate our value as we participate in providing support and bringing together information resources for that 2026 International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists. So those are things that I see as part of the future of our interdisciplinary collaboration and partnership.

>> Yeah, I'm looking forward to that. A few years ago at this meeting, I remember Maria Gimenez-Fernandez saying that qualitative researchers have to reveal their biases in recognition of the fact that these affect our interpretation of, you know, seemingly bare facts. And I think she was asserting that the qualitative researchers should do the same thing. And so, I've tried to reveal some of my biases here, but I can't resist a final comment on rangelands-based livestock production. I'm fond of saying that this really is the only form of food and fiber production that is compatible and relies on and is profitable when we take care of naturally occurring plant communities. And if we do it right, we can maintain ecosystem goods and services in the same space. And that's unique. But the ranchers in the room are the people spoken of in -- there's an old Alabama song where they say the fruits of their labor are worth more than their pay. But this production if we want to call it that is really where the controversy is because to the environmental idealist, this represents the desecration of otherwise pure nature and is therefore an unforgivable sin. And getting some meat out of the deal doesn't redeem the sacrilege. But to the rancher and to many range professionals, it is a situation where we can have our cake and eat it, too. And it does seem to me that if we're going to grow food somewhere to feed lots of people, I'd rather have more of this and less of cornfields because when you plant a cornfield, you destroy everything that was there before the cornfield. And it's gone. The stuff that was there is really gone. So as our incoming president Barry Perryman likes to say, grazing is not a noun, it's a verb. And our job, everybody in this room, is to learn about and practice directing the action of that verb well. I realize and I'm not asserting that we need livestock on every inch of the terrestrial portion of the planet but where we do and where we don't. Either way, I think we need to pass on a good earth. That's the title of a biography about Carl Sauer who was one of the better known geographers of the last century. And maybe one last thought. You might ponder how you're all slowed down and your face relaxed a little bit when they were playing bird song into the room yesterday. It was striking to me.

>> That's excellent. Thank you so much. And we're going to wrap it up here. A couple of final closing thoughts. And I just want to thank you so much for your time and all you've done over the years for range and range science. We've taken some time today to talk about one of the challenges, one challenge I feel is pretty important is how to find and use information. There are many, many other challenges you will be facing and you'll hear a lot about them today. And we've faced those challenges in different ways. A common way might be technology, right? Applying artificial intelligence or some new imagery from a satellite. What I most admire about interdisciplinary groups is how they face challenges. And it's that they turn to the people in those [inaudible]. And I think that's just something that a lot of us end up doing because of our profession and we're here, we're here talking to each other. And so, I just want to express some admiration for everyone who's in the room and have a great day today. Thank you so much. I'll turn this over to Karen.

>> I challenge this panel to inspire us and tell us a little bit about their philosophy. And they did it. Thank you so much. It was excellent. I was talking with a person. She came out of a session. I said, "Hey, how's it going?" She said, "My head is nearly full." And that was just the first day. So I feel like we have not done duty. We are just -- there's more information than you could possibly handle at this meeting. Two things. Remember, it's about relationships. And remember that all of this is going to be on the Cadence app. So when you get home, if you forgot something, you can look it up. So, please revel in the fact that we're all here together and that we can change the world but it's going to start with rubbing elbows and having relationships. So, thanks to all of you, folks. And look forward to tomorrow. Tomorrow, we've got two philosophers again. One is a young Canadian woman who's a rancher and student. Another is a really revered land management specialist that's now retired and a real philosopher for us in Idaho. So, it will be really great. Have a really great day.

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to show at For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by CAHNRS Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

>> The views, thoughts and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University's endorsement.


Mentioned Resources

Society for Range Management 2023 annual meeting website

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