CSU hires range science specialist | TheFencePost.com

CSU hires range science specialist

Jeff Rice for the University of Colorado Journal-Advocate
Donald Schoderbek is Colorado State University’s new range science specialist for eastern Colorado, working out of the Northeast Colorado Regional Engagement Center in downtown Sterling.
Sterling Journal-Advocate |

If you have any questions about rangeland management in the Canadian province of Alberta, Donald Schoderbek can find the answer with a few clicks of his computer keyboard. Northern Colorado, on the other hand … well, that takes a little longer.

“It’ll just take me a little time to find all of the right websites and databases,” Schoderbek said. “I just happen to know where all the (data) is for Alberta.”

That’s because Schoderbek, the new CSU regional extension specialist in rangeland science for eastern Colorado, is on the verge of completing his master’s degree through the University of Alberta. His thesis will be on the relationship between grazing and soil carbon storage in Alberta’s rangeland, and it’s knowledge he plans to apply daily to his work in Colorado.

A native of northern New Mexico, Schoderbek earned his bachelor’s degree in rangeland science from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. And if you think the Land of Enchantment has little in common with Colorful Colorado, CSU’s new rangeland specialist has some news for you.

“You have to reach a balance between what’s sustainable, ecologically and economically.”

“Northern Colorado is becoming more like northern New Mexico all the time,” Schoderbeck said. “July average temperatures are up 6 or 7 degrees over the past 100 years. Sure, it’s anecdotal data from scattered sources, but it’s there. Climate change is just a matter of fact.”


And that’s part of what makes Schoderbek’s job so challenging. It’s not enough that the already arid climate in eastern Colorado and the San Luis Valley is becoming even warmer and drier; add in complex and sometimes divergent federal regulations, the growing problem of invasive species, and increasing uncertainty about livestock markets, and smart rangeland management isn’t just smart, it’s crucial.

“You have to reach a balance between what’s sustainable, ecologically and economically,” he said.

That begs the question: Is traditional cattle ranching, which requires acres and acres of shortgrass prairie, even sustainable?

“Oh, of course it is, absolutely,” Schoderbek said, “and indefinitely, too. This ecosystem evolved to support buffalo, so it’s made for grazing. The key to it is monitoring your forage. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. You have to measure the forage in each pasture and see how it changes over time, and then respond to those changes.”

That’s where Schoderbek’s academic work on Alberta’s rangeland will come in handy to Colorado ranchers — monitoring is what this young scientist is all about.

“The old-time ranchers who have been doing (monitoring) for 100 years, they’re the ones who have found that out,” he said. “It’s the lack of (good grazing practices) that have led to some of the problems we have, like cheatgrass. It takes over from the good native grasses, but it’s no good for forage.”

Schoderbek said he looks forward to working with area ranchers on new techniques for rangeland monitoring and management. And he has a big area to cover. The Northeast Engagement Center for Colorado State University covers 31 counties in eastern and southern Colorado, so Schoderbek is going to be spending some time in his pickup.

He also said he and his wife, Madelyn, are looking forward to raising their family here. So far they have one son, 16-month-old Swen.

In his off time, the 27-year-old Schoderbek enjoys working in metal and wood, and playing the mandolin. ❖

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