About the Department

Photograph of a meadow.July 1, 2002 marked the beginning of a new era in natural resource education, research, and extension at Iowa State University. The formation of the Natural Resource Ecology and Management Department through the merger of the Animal Ecology and Forestry Departments provided the means and facilities to continue the growth of our programs in forestry, fisheries, wildlife, and wood science; while providing the platform on which to build new programs.

Historians often like to say that the past is the prologue for the future. If that is true, there is little doubt that our history of achievements as individual departments provides us with a very sound and successful base on which to continue into the future. The forestry program celebrated its Centennial in 2004, can trace it roots to Gifford Pinchot and the very beginning of forestry education in the United States at the start of the 20th Century. But even before that, Dr. Charles Bessey began to introduce elements of forestry into the Botany curriculum and was among the first to explore the potential impact of forestation on the climate of Iowa and other states along the prairie-forest interface.

The seeds of natural resource conservation planted during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt took root, especially during the dark days of the Great American Depression as exemplified by the massive conservation efforts associated with Federal programs such as CCC and TVA. An early product of this awaking was the realization that more formalized training programs in fisheries and wildlife management were needed. Also Aldo Leopold, an Iowa native, was among those that helped to create this awareness. Even more so, the contributions of another Iowan, J. N. "Ding" Darling really helped to further public awareness of natural resource issues and the need for scientific approaches to the management of fish and wildlife populations. Darling was instrumental in establishing the federal Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units as an aid in the establishment of formal teaching and research programs in fisheries and wildlife management at the nation's landgrant universities. Iowa State has the distinction of having been chosen as the initiating institution when this innovative program began to function in the mid-1930s.

During the intervening years each program went through an evolution, first being a part of established departments such as horticulture and zoology, and then coming into full departmental status in their own right as both areas continued to evolve. During this time both departments were busy with the training of students, many of who went on to have successful careers and to take on significant leadership roles in government, industry, and academia. And while each program has been successful, the natural resources arena has undergone a number of changes during this same time frame and it has become increasing clear that a new approach is needed if we are continue to be successful. It is on this foundation of collective success and individual accomplishment that we will continue to build to meet the challenges of a new era.

Where we are going

So where do we hope to be when this decade comes to a close? First, we want to continue to be preferred providers of fisheries, forestry, and wildlife managers as well as top-flight wood scientists. Over the two years leading up to the formation of the department, faculty and staff devoted hundreds of hours of thought and discussion to the formulation of a vision of the new department and its goals. These visions and goals have now been formalized into a departmental strategic plan that will guide this process. Quoting from that document: The Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management is dedicated to the understanding, effective management, and sustainable use of our renewable natural resources through the land-grant missions of teaching, research, and extension. NREM's disciplinary focus is broad in scope, ranging from individual organisms to landscapes, from natural to managed ecosystems, from wilderness to agricultural and urban systems, from local to international environments, and from resource preservation to utilization. Understanding and effectively managing our natural resources requires long-term vision and multidisciplinary approaches involving NREM personnel working with people from other diverse disciplines across the university and within federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations. NREM reflects a diversity of disciplines, including ecology and other biological sciences, social science, economics, sustainable resource management and utilization, and human dimensions. NREM serves society through the land-grant tradition of working with undergraduate and graduate students, state and federal government agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and the public.

In order to act on our vision, we have formulated a number of goals at the Department level. These goals are aligned and complementary to goals established at the University and College level. Again, extracting from the strategic plan, the following goals have been established at the University, College, and Departmental levels.

University goals

The University's strategic plan cites three goals that will assist Iowa State in becoming the best at achieving the land-grant mission. All three goals relate directly or indirectly to the goals and plans of NREM for continued and enhanced excellence in teaching, research, and extension.

  • Enhance learning through exceptional learner-centered teaching, services, and enrichment opportunities.
  • Promote discovery and innovation characterized by preeminent scholarship, including increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative activities.
  • Engage with key constituents through synergistic sharing and partnership of knowledge and expertise to address needs of communities and society.

College goals

The College of Agriculture's strategic plan states that "a healthy environment is an important part of the future economic health of Iowa, and that the College of Agriculture must be a responsive resource for protecting and enhancing natural resources, and for developing new ways to harness the state's abundant renewable resources for the good of society." In support of those ideas, the college has two goals.

  • Enhance training in integrated resource management for undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Enhance research and extension in natural resources, landscape enhancement, and bioproduct development.

Department goals

NREM is dedicated to the land-grant missions of undergraduate and graduate education, basic and applied research, and extension and outreach. Therefore, we are committed to the following:

  • A strong undergraduate program serving existing majors in Animal Ecology and Forestry and the development of new integrative majors or options in Natural Resource Ecology and Management.
  • A strong graduate program with majors in animal ecology, fisheries biology, forestry, wildlife biology, and wood science, as well as active participation in interdepartmental graduate programs.
  • An excellent research program that spans basic to applied sciences, as well as the human dimensions aspects of natural resource management. Meeting the research needs of Iowa citizens, governmental natural resource agencies, and other constituents is of the highest priority.
  • Highly respected extension and outreach programs and activities that address the many and growing expectations and needs of our stakeholders around the state and nation.

While our journey has only recently begun, given our history and commitment we feel confident in our ability to achieve these and future goals. At the same time we will be building a strong and vibrant program in natural resource education, research, and extension; a program that will serve the needs of Iowa and the world.