WILDLIFE PERSPECTIVES COLLIDE AND EVOLVE AT NMSU
by Dean John C. OwensThis article appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of New Mexico Resources.
I'm extremely proud of the impact NMSU's fishery and wildlife programs have on New Mexico, the profession, and the science. It's remarkable that as small as New Mexico's population is, we are such an important source of expertise for the management of our nation's and, indeed, the world's natural resources. One of our graduates is acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, another has started the first graduate-degree-granting wildlife program in Mexico, and another directs New Mexico's Department of Game and Fish, to list only a few.
NMSU's impact is even more remarkable when we consider that our program began as just a small piece of another academic department. Charles Davis, recently retired fishery and wildlife sciences department head, notes that when the program originated in 1959, wildlife studies were an adjunct to range studies, which were part of the animal, range, and wildlife sciences department.
Oriinally, the wildlife sciences program reflected the perspective of the times, which was a focus on the effects of wildlife on rangeland and livestock. Consequently, studying range rodents was a big part of the research program of the day. Increasingly, however, another "industry" emerged as important to New Mexico. Wildlife and fish not only were important to the quality of life of our citizens, but they also were a key part of the travel and tourism industry in the Land of Enchantment.
The establishment of our fishery and wildlife sciences department signaled an increased commitment to the scientific study of game and fish management in support of hunting and fishing in New Mexico.
Since then, our department has increasingly embraced a new philosophy that has permeated the profession of wildlife science. Wildlife now are viewed not only as livestock competitors, or objects to harvest, but also as essential components of healthy environments and, therefore, intrinsically important to everyone. The study of nongame species as part of overall ecosystems was a pursuit that gained increasing support.
In 1989, important new expertise came to NMSU in the form of the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. These new federal scientists were lodged with our fishery and wildlife sciences department, expanding NMSU's ability to study neotropical birds, fish, and reptiles and their habitats, as well as to offer that expertise in the classroom.
As a result of New Mexico's history and our unique place in America, we have a faculty and student body that reflect not just one of the several perspectives concerning wildlife biology, but all of them. Among our students are those who are interested in rangelands and animal agriculture, those who are avid hunters and an-glers, and those who see themselves acting on behalf of natural environments and ecosystems. I'm sure that many of our students see themselves embodying all of those perspectives.
These perspectives reflect the tremendously broad background of our student body. Students hail from big cities like Albuquerque, small towns, ranches, Indian nations, and foreign lands. It's an educational bonus that students in fishery and wildlife sciences at NMSU are part of a setting that will challenge their perspectives.
This is the essence of college education no matter what the field of study. Some student preconceptions will persist, some will be dashed, but most will undergo modification as a result of testing them through scientific inquiry in the company of people who often have conflicting but valid ideas.
It's extremely important that NMSU maintain its place at the educational table in the field of fishery and wildlife sciences. The graduates of this rich educational experience are active in key natural resource management positions in the state, across the nation, and around the world. We're all better off as a result.