Challenges, flexibility offered by Extension job
Pinedale – When Eric Peterson graduated from the University of Wyoming (UW) and found the job of UW Cooperative Extension Services (CES) Extension Agent for Sublette County he took it and never looked back.
That was 30 years ago, and today Peterson’s job has shifted to Sublette County Coordinator and Area Natural Resources Education Specialist for Lincoln, Sublette, Sweetwater, Teton and Uinta counties. “I’ve always been an outdoors fellow and in high school and my early college career I had the aim of working with wildlife,” he says, which led to a UW degree in wildlife conservation and management. Following that he earned a Master’s in adult education.
In his first 25 years with Extension in Sublette County Peterson worked with both agriculture and natural resources and 4-H. “More recently, since the strategic reorganization of Extension, I’ve become an area agent in the western portion of the state and my responsibilities now primarily include the sustainable management of rangelands,” he says. “My work has become much more specific.”
UW CES has two general initiative areas that encompass its work in agriculture and natural resources. The initiative areas are Sustainable Management of Rangeland Resources (SMRR) and Profitable and Sustainable Agriculture Systems (PSAS). Together the initiatives encompass a tremendous diversity of program areas.
Peterson leads the SMRR in the Mountain West Extension Area, while Hudson Hill heads the PSAS from Star Valley.
Peterson says one of his chief efforts now is cooperative permittee monitoring. “Over the years I’ve also worked in the financial aspects of range management,” he explains. “I’ve become pretty well versed in the ins and outs and information needs that are tied to this western rangeland agriculture we have over here, with lots of BLM ground and mother cows.”
“Extension is a good job. It provides me lots of challenges and lots of flexibility,” says Peterson. “I’m basically self-directed in my work, so I’ve got to be self-motivated.” He says he also enjoys working with “lots of everyday folks.”
“The most common thing I deal with right now is the brucellosis. I have to stay informed on that,” he says of what his job currently includes. “Over the years, and within the years, the most common questions vary according to what’s going on in the area. It depends on the season and what kinds of things are troubling people in terms of problems or information needs that will help them make decisions regarding what they’re going to do, or need to do, at that time.”
Peterson calls himself the “answer man for agriculture” in the western portion of Wyoming. “If I don’t know the answer I can find somebody that does,” he says.
“The energy industry has become a larger force in Sublette County and, because of my association with ranches, I saw its effect there first,” says Peterson, adding, “Now we’re trying to figure out how we can be of assistance to the energy industry. I realize I’ll never be energy’s answer man, but hopefully some of our information can be of use to them in things dealing with rangelands and range restoration and balance and uses on those lands.”
To stay informed and educated Peterson says he spends a lot of time learning and attending seminars. “If we as extension agents don’t keep learning we’ll soon be left behind,” he says. In addition to attending training offered through Extension Peterson says he’s also a member of the Society for Range Management.
“It comes back to understanding what’s going on in the community, and I attend quite a few meetings and I keep my ears open. I ask questions of other sources to clarify information and build on a knowledge base to synthesize a holistic view of things,” he says. “I try to place what I learn in perspective so I can share it with people who have questions.”
Now that Peterson is an Area Extension Agent he says his area of the state is bigger, but his topic more specialized. There are two other agents in the area that work on livestock and crops educational programming. “They’re my go-to guys for livestock and crops, and I’m theirs for rangeland programming,” he explains.
Peterson says the 4-H program in Sublette County continues to do well. “There are always speed bumps in the 4-H program, and my role now is to council the folks who have to navigate them, rather than navigating them myself,” he notes.
Of living in Pinedale for 30 years, Peterson says he likes the mountains, and he doesn’t like heat. “I like the small-town community, and the older I get and the nearer to retirement, the more I realize there are probably better places around to spend the winter but I expect I’ll always be here.”
Peterson and his wife Adrianne and daughters Mae and Tandy operate a small ranch operation near Pinedale.
Until a few years ago Peterson worked with Stella McKinstry, who retired after 60 years with UW CES. “I’m not going to follow the lead of my colleague,” states Peterson of how long he’ll be with Extension. “Not even close to that.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.