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Neiman says he thinks he is not deserving of the outstanding alumni honor. "There are so many good people in this state," he says. "To sit in with that group is humbling. I think I've got a long ways to go. The good news is it challenges me to give more."
Outstanding alumni recipient Jim Neiman says he received a master's after he left the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' classrooms - but you won't see that hanging on a wall or tucked away somewhere.
More about that later.
Neiman, a former University of Wyoming trustee, received a range management degree in 1974 and heads Neiman Enterprises Inc., a wood products businesses headquartered in Hulett and with facilities in Hill City and Spearfish, South Dakota, and Montrose, Colorado.
The company's sustainability practices, promoted by Neiman, draws praise from the forestry arena.
"Neiman Enterprises has been a regional and national leader in the forest products industry even during the economic downturn of 2008," says Robert Means, Wyoming Bureau of Land Management state forester and climate change coordinator.
"The company has implemented the Sustainable Forestry Initiative program by training all of its resource foresters and logging contractors to meet this standard, which involves third-party audits to ensure that all forest practices undertaken meet sustainability goals," he notes. "The labeling of forest products with the SFI certification increases Neiman's forest products profitability and marketability and ensures that forests are sustainably harvested."
Neiman says that effort of sustainability arose from two directions: his family and its fifth-generation ranch and his experience with a renowned UW entomologist with the iconic last name of Beetle - Professor Alan Beetle.
Beetle was Neiman's adviser, and that relationship opened the door to forestry rather than range.
Sustainability came about because agricultural producers are in the business for the long haul, he says, despite assertions by some conservation groups.
"There are two groups in the environmental community out there," Neiman says. "I'll be blunt and bold. It took me a few decades to realize there are some really good environmental groups out there like Nature Conservancy (and others not). When you look at families and the next two generations, one of the motives isn't just surviving but how do you pass that on to the next generation? You start looking differently than a company on the New York Stock Exchange seeking short-term profits but rather how you can be sustainable. You are looking out two generations."
The deepest recession since the Great Depression and the explosion of mountain pine beetle across the Intermountain region could have made changing his business' sustainability course tempting.
"It's tough, and it does add costs," he says. "But you bring yourself back to, 'What do I want this forest to look like in 10 or 50 years?' Once you get that as the cornerstone foundation of what you are doing, your principles stay intact."
Neiman has a long list of service to the state and university (see bottom right) having served on the UW Board of Trustees for 12 years and two years as president.
"He was one of the most sure-handed, effective, and respected board presidents I have seen during my 14 years in Old Main," says Myron Allen, former UW Provost. "Two attributes mark Jim's terms as a trustee: a deep commitment to the institution and a real depth of character."
Neiman values the comparative advantage UW has in providing education, research, and extension support for sustainable resource management, notes Tom Thurow, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, in his nomination letter. Not only for existing programs, says Thurow, but also where UW could do better.
"He was happy to hear that we established a bachelor's of science minor in forest resources," says Thurow. "So much so, he took the initiative to create a scholarship jointly funded by him and the Society for American Foresters to be awarded to a student pursuing a forest resources minor."
Neiman says education - either at the local level or at UW - has been his particular passion, and says some environmental groups have tried in schools to rewrite history and paint a picture of the forest industry as money hungry, big corporation America.
"I think we have one of the best generations ever in front of us," he says. "If provided a balanced education and both sides, they'll figure it out."
And, he says, "there is something about your alma mater. You have to lead by example. How do you go from success to significance? How do you help others? That's an important part of it."
Which is where that master's comes in.
"The experience I gained as a trustee where I had a chance to serve on the enhanced oil recovery commission and help another natural resources world, and setting on the Rucklehaus board for a few years helped broaden my perspectives," Neiman says. "I really felt as a trustee, by going down there and serving, I was getting my master's. You feel like you gain more than you give. That's why I almost feel guilty about (receiving the award). That creates a foundation where you gain more than you give."