Fellows in the News

As a college student in the mid-1980s, Maria Fernandez-Gimenez worked as a seasonal interpreter for the National Park Service. That’s when she was first exposed to the great Western debate over public-lands ranching. She soon became familiar with environmentalists’ gripes about grazing impacts, but realized she knew nothing about the ranchers’ point of view. So she went to work on a distant cousin’s ranch in northwestern Colorado, where she spent the summer sleeping in a hayloft.

She went on to study the traditional ecological knowledge of Western ranchers –– the information and experiences that guide how individual livestock growers and communities work the land and manage local resources. Most of the researchers in her field focus on indigenous cultures; Fernandez-Gimenez was one of the first to concentrate on ranchers in the West, whose ecological knowledge and practices risk being lost as rangelands are transformed by development and environmental change.

In addition to working in rural towns and Native American communities around the West, she’s studied nomadic pastoralists in Mongolia and, most recently, Spanish sheepherders in the Aragonese Pyrenees. Now a Colorado State University professor, Fernandez-Gimenez recently shared her unique perspective on ranchers’ global habits with High Country News.

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