Professor and range management specialist, George Ruyle holds the Marley Endowed Chair for Sustainable Rangeland Stewardship in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE) at the University of Arizona. A big role, but we’re keener on visiting with Ruyle about something important to Arizona ranchers. Beyond his range management expertise, Ruyle also serves as Co-Director of the Natural Resource Users Law and Policy Center, a unique partnership among the U. of A. College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension and the James E. Rogers College of Law. As such, he works with natural resource managers and user groups in collaborative efforts to improve on-the-ground private and public resource management throughout Arizona and the West.
He’s uniquely suited for these roles since Ruyle served as chair of the Ecology, Management and Restoration of Rangelands Program in SNRE for 16 years prior. He is a Fellow in the Society for Range Management, a Certified Range Management Professional and was a member of the National Research Council Board on Agriculture Committee on Rangeland Classification which produced Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory and Monitor Rangelands.
Additionally, Ruyle is currently a member of the Arizona Livestock Loss Board, the Heber Wild Horse Territory Working Group, the Altar Valley Science Advisory Board and the Board of Directors for the Arizona Livestock Incident Response Team.
With a few changes at the Center and now in a co-directorship model, Arizona Farm Bureau thought it might be time to get the latest news on what’s going on with the Center.
Arizona Agriculture: Explain the background and purpose of the Natural Resource Users Law and Policy Center?
Ruyle: The Natural Resource Users Law and Policy Center (NRULPC or the Center) is a creative partnership of the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law and Cooperative Extension that grew out of grassroots discussions among University decision-makers and leaders in the ranching industry and other areas of agriculture and natural resource economic uses. A strength of this partnership is the ability to take a multi-tiered approach to identifying and addressing legal and policy impediments, or obstacles, to productivity based on direct stakeholder/county extension agent requests for assistance.
This assistance may involve on-site environmental analysis, interpretation, and development of agency rules, working with lawmakers and encouraging and facilitating legislative solutions. Established in 2016 NRULPC strives to address otherwise unmet legal and policy needs of individuals and businesses that depend upon natural resources. In general, the Center’s aims are to collaborate with stakeholders, mentor-student clinicians and fellows, provide scholarly legal and policy analysis, and address the underrepresented law and policy needs of the natural resource community of Arizona and the West.
Arizona Agriculture: Since its inception, has the mission changed or expanded at all? If so, why or why not?
Ruyle: Originally, much of the Center’s aim was to provide access to litigation services for those with little or no access to legal representation. John Lacy and I, as co-directors, have redefined the NRULPC role as collaborative problem solving through legal and policy analysis that supports management decisions rather than leading to litigation. This is primarily a philosophical emphasis tied to the mission of the University of Arizona as a Land Grant University. We work to improve the lives of citizens in the state by bringing the university to the people. This is really counter to a litigious approach to problems. Additionally, ours is an Extension-based approach to conservation rather than the compulsory-based approach. This approach is well-known by working ranchers and others that interact regularly with Extension.
Arizona Agriculture: Since NRULPC’s inception, where has it come? What do you feel the Policy Center has produced for constituents?
Ruyle: Current major issues faced by agriculture and natural resource industries include labor shortages, water use policies, and food safety. Additionally, the myriad regulations farmers and ranchers must navigate is staggering whether on private or public lands. However, the potential for other issues to emerge over the years is considerable. In a recent national survey conducted for the Extension arm of USDA, broadly defined critical natural resource issues were identified by a variety of stakeholder groups. Included were issues relevant to ecosystem services (related to land productivity), invasive species, water and wetlands, wildfire, and wildlife habitat and management. Cross-cutting all these issues were concerns about climate adaptation, restoration, and land conversion and fragmentation. Facets of these issues were crucial to improving livelihoods and to the ability of stakeholders to maintain the health and productivity of the country’s natural resources.
Arizona Agriculture: Share with readers about current projects in play that the Center is working on behalf of key stakeholders?
Ruyle: I list below examples of Programming in the Natural Resource Users Law and Policy Center and the Natural Resource Use and Management Law Clinic
- Revision of NEPA for Ranchers guidebook
- Developed Handbook for Federal Appeals of Grazing Decisions
- Commented on Coronado National Forest BA for Grazing Program and Endangered Species
- Commented on FS Stateline Range Allotments NEPA
- Developed memos for Prescribed Burning Liability for Private Landowners, Arizona Open Range Law, and Regulations on Animal Feeding Operations
- WOTUS permit requirements for Federal Waters analysis
Additionally, the Center has as a primary goal of Securing U.S. Forest Service Grazing Permits in Arizona. Approaches to meet this goal include:
- FS NEPA Reform
- Identifying Vacant Allotments in Arizona
- Monitoring Implementation
- Conflict Management for Allotments
- Immersion Experience for Land Management Agency Staff
Arizona Agriculture: Explain in more detail how the Policy Center Benefits the Natural Resource Community?
Ruyle: Because the work the NRULPC does is based on direct requests from stakeholders, it’s expected that legal and regulatory aspects of these types of issues will be a focus for the Center. For instance, to date issues of importance to landowners in Arizona have included environmental regulations (NEPA and ESA specifically), prescribed fire regulation, and water rights.
In setting priorities, the Center will assess critical timeframes as well as the general applicability and benefit to landowners in the state and throughout the country. Thus, while each landowner in the state will not be served by every project, each project should serve a collective interest beyond the immediate problem. The focus for selecting projects is to eliminate social barriers that interfere with landowner ability to use the land efficiently and effectively both in terms of economic and environmental benefits.
Arizona Agriculture: Is the program generating interest for law students and if so, what does this mean for the future?
Ruyle: There are several levels of educational opportunities for undergraduate and law students and executive training for those not enrolled at the U of A. The undergraduate class the center offers is ACBS/Law 411, “An introduction to Agricultural Law and Policy for the Modern-Day Natural Resource User.” The class exposes students to complex natural resource law and policy matters in real time by incorporating natural resource experts into classroom exercises, promoting active learning and leadership on timely and relevant topics. The overall purpose is to promote law as a career option to students working on degrees associated with natural resource use.
Current Projects of the Center - Online Training
- Course on Developing Public Lands Under the National Environmental Policy Act
- Course on Public Land Use
- Available to students in the Clinic, students in CALS and as executive training
- Video postings of lectures and interviews on current topics
- Colorado River conservation
- Waters of the United States
Natural Resource Use & Management Clinic
- Offering a public interest law clinic staffed by law students, with assistance from CALS, on matters involving the regulation and use of natural resources.
- Priyanka (Priya) Sundareshan, Esq., Director of the Clinic
- Clinic objectives
Provide students with practical experience in the intersection of law, policy, and science governing natural resource use and management.
Students work with faculty in CALS, the Global Mining Law Center, and other scientific and public health departments at the U of A, and natural resource use communities in Arizona including agriculture, grazing, forestry, mining, and tribal nations. Current projects include:
- Waters of the United States project
- Watershed restoration/land improvement project
- Hot topics blog
- Administrative Appeals Handbook
- NEPA Handbook
- Guest teaching in rangeland management course
Arizona Agriculture: How is funding for the Policy Center coming? This might certainly be an opportunity to request donations from readers.
Ruyle: Our desired level of funding is approximately $400,000 per year. Since its inception the Center has operated on about half this amount provided in partnership by U of A CALS Cooperative Extension and the College of Law. We have recently secured a major grant and several smaller donations and have submitted several proposals to other foundations. University funding may sunset as soon as July 2020.
Arizona Agriculture: What are your predictions for Arizona agriculture’s future, certainly for ranching?
Ruyle: I am confident that Arizona agriculture will survive and thrive well into the future. But it will need to change and adapt to numerous challenges, including water availability, weather patterns, land use and vegetation changes and societal shifts in a whole host of areas.
Range livestock production will continue but will be as closely tied to ecosystem services and maintaining open space as it is beef production. Everyone will need to work together to insure this future.