University of Arizona's George Ruyle
by Eric Swedlund
As the title “rangeland management specialist” suggests, the University of Arizona’s George Ruyle prefers to work in the great outdoors.
“I was always interested in agriculture and the idea of producing food,” says Ruyle, a UA professor since 1983. Today, he is the first recipient of the Marley Endowed Chair for Sustainable Rangeland Stewardship at the UA, part of a $4.5 million gift from the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation.
Ruyle’s passion stems from his youth in central Illinois, where he worked on farms and began developing a deep respect for the land, food production, and the many ecological benefi ts of careful stewardship, from preserving open spaces to reducing the hazards of wildfires.
But his interest in how things grow and thrive in relation to each other ultimately led him to study the systems that make up rangelands. Ruyle earned a master’s in rangeland management from the University of California, Berkeley, and his doctorate in rangeland science from Utah State.
He found the perfect fit for his conceptual and practical interests at the UA, a university with longtime ties to rural communities across the state. Based in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, his work includes environmental
monitoring and evaluating vegetation and soil respective to grazing — especially under changing climate conditions like the current drought. It provides a scientific basis for the policy of continued public lands ranching in Arizona, demonstrating that carefully managed ranching preserves large swaths of open, undeveloped space and maintains healthy natural habitats.
“That’s what the whole idea of adaptive management is all about,” Ruyle says. “I’ve always felt that in order to properly manage rangelands over a long period of time, you need to have a tangible reason for doing it. I’ve never had a rancher tell me ‘I want to wreck this place before I’m done.’ That’s not what this is about. This is all about sustainability.”
One of Arizona’s famous economy-driving Five C’s — along with copper, cotton, citrus, and climate — cattle ranching has “huge social, cultural, and economic values,” he continues. There are about 2,500 family ranches in Arizona and, depending on the year, range livestock production is the fi rst or second largest agricultural commodity in the state, generating about $600 million to $1 billion annually.
“Having the UA involved, and developing educational programs and research, is really important to these communities, but it’s also very important for the UA,” Ruyle
“The $4.5 million didn’t come out of the blue,” he continues. “It’s because we’re there, working with people to identify issues and work on solutions.”
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