Texas A&M awards endowed professorship to Dr. Urs Kreuter

By: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, skledbetter@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Urs Kreuter, 979-845-5583, urs@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – The Joan Negley Kelleher Endowed Professorship has been awarded to Dr. Urs Kreuter in the Texas A&M University department of ecosystem science and management, effective September 1, 2016.

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Dr. Urs Kreuter. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

"Kreuter has demonstrated a high level of competence and leadership in range science through scholarly and professional activities above and beyond that normally expected of or accomplished by a university professor," said Dr. Kathleen Kavanagh, head of the ecosystem science and management department.

The Joan Negley Kelleher Endowed Professorship was established in 1986 as a vehicle for an increased level of professional competence focused directly on improving rangeland productivity and the profitability of ranching operations.

“It’s a great honor to be selected,” Kreuter said. “It’s a double honor, really, because Dr. Jerry Stuth originally hired me as his post-doc and encouraged me to apply for the position I’m in, and he was the previous holder of the professorship.”

He said the money that accompanies the professorship will allow him to do several things: provide more graduate student support, travel to attend professional meetings and for faculty development leave to South Africa for three months to develop a cooperative research proposal on grazing and fire effects on rangelands.

"Kreuter’s selection was based on his teaching and his Texas A&M AgriLife Research program aimed at ranching on Texas rangelands," Kavanagh said.

“I also love the teaching aspect of my job. I come from Southern Africa, and it’s been rewarding because I’ve been able to take Aggie students to the part of the world I came from,” he  said. “For many of them, it has been a life-changing experience and even influenced their career orientation.

“One of the very first things we do is go to a rundown shanty town. I try to point out that is a reality of life for many in Africa. When we talk about conserving natural resources, I want the students to realize they live in a very privileged society and that what they see and do in the USA is not reality for much of the rest of the world.”

Kreuter joined the Texas A&M faculty in 1998 and earned the rank of professor in 2010. His research program concentration is to understand the human dimensions of managing rangelands and how to integrate them with the economic and ecological components of ecosystems.

Kreuter’s research of applying prescribed fire is one area where he introduced a greater understanding of the human dimensions of natural resources and rangeland management.

One of the most cost-effective methods to reduce woody vegetation across vast areas is the use of prescribed fire, Kavanagh said. His research on the social barriers and economics of prescribed fire has helped to increase the application of fire and long-term productivity of rangelands and, therefore, the economic profitability of ranching for wildlife and livestock.

“I’m most interested in understanding what drives the management decisions of landowners, and how they might be encouraged to adopt more ecologically sound rangeland management practices,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with grazing and fire. One of my main research questions is, how can we stop the degradation of rangelands and implement improved management practices?”

One of the most difficult things, Kreuter said, is to get private landowners to coordinate their land management decisions by adopting more of an ecological or water management perspective across a region and not just focusing on their own property.

“That’s where fire for me is an interesting tool, and prescribed burn associations are a great mechanism for facilitating landscape conversation,” he said.

There are not a lot of people working on the factors that influence decision-making about the use of prescribed fire, Kreuter said. He said reaching a level where people seek him out as an expert in the field has been very gratifying.

He is recognized for his ability to integrate social, economic and ecological sciences, which recently culminated in his involvement in a National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems grant, Kavanagh said. As a co-principal investigator, Kreuter is providing the social underpinning of this proposal with several of his key publications.

In recent years, Kreuter was the recipient of the Society of Range Management Outstanding Achievement Award – Academia/Research, as well as four teaching awards. He also led a high impact study abroad experience to South Africa and was recognized in 2013 for his outstanding contribution to the teaching mission of the university by the Texas A&M Association of Former Students with the Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching at the College Level.