UW's Renewable Resources Department Has New Head
September 8, 2009 — The new head of the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Wyoming has returned to his roots.
John Tanaka received his bachelor's and master's degrees in rangeland resources at Oregon State University and a Ph.D. in range science at Utah State University.
Tanaka then spent 24 years in an ag econ department. He's now back in the plant and soils business in the College of Agriculture.
"This was an opportunity for me to move back to the real range," Tanaka says. "I've had more training in ecology than economics."
Tanaka began July 31, coming to UW from Oregon State University, where he was an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics. "When in ag econ, I was doing a lot of range research on interdisciplinary teams," he says. "I've stayed involved in the Society for Range Management (SRM), serving as president, and last year as the interim executive vice president."
He came to know several of the renewable resources department's faculty members from his work with SRM.
Tanaka said the range profession is at a crossroads, one of the reasons he applied for the department head position. "This is a good opportunity to be part of the change," he says. "For the last decade, the range profession has been doing a lot of soul searching."
The profession used to only deal with grazing issues on rangelands. Society has brought changes to how rangelands are used: energy development, resource management, wildlife, and soil and water are now issues.
All fit under the Department of Renewable Resources. "This is an interdisciplinary department with the opportunity to address these issues," says Tanaka.
Being an administrator was also a draw. "I had different administrative positions over the years," he said. "I enjoy this kind of work. It was time to make a change in my career. I enjoy dealing with people, and I think I can do the numbers. We'll find out."
Tanaka grew up in Ontario, Ore., on the eastern border with Idaho. He was raised in town but worked on a farm owned by an uncle. "I determined there wasn't a future for me in the profession," he says, and smiles. "I discovered range in my freshman year in college and stayed with it."
His wife, Ann (Fuller), was raised on a ranch near Sheridan, and her parents still work the ranch. They have three daughters, ages 17, 19 and 21. Her uncle, the late Dave Fuller, who ranched in Sheridan County, was an outstanding alumni award recipient from the College of Agriculture in 1992.