UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences



Russell L. RusticiThe Russell L. Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland Watershed Science was created by the late Russell Rustici. Mr. Rustici was a Lake County cattle rancher and philanthropist with a deep interest in cattle ranching and preservation of rangeland ecosystems. He worked with and supported several UC professors, Cooperative Extension specialists and farm advisers over the past 20 years on research related to California rangelands. His gift funded two endowed faculty positions at UCD to support research and outreach programs related to California rangelands.

Rangeland Watershed Specialist Ken Tate has been named a Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland Watershed Science, a prestigious appointment which ensures range-science research and scholarship at UC Davis in perpetuity.

Tate’s endowed chair was one of two such appointments created with a gift from the estate of Russell L. Rustici, a Lake County cattle rancher who died in October 2008 at the age of 84. Joining Tate as endowed chair is Randy Dahlgren, professor of soil science and biogeochemistry and chair of the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources.

Appointment to an endowed chair is one of the highest honors a university can bestow upon a faculty member, a mark of distinction recognized worldwide. And yet, the humble Tate says the endowment is more of a reflection on Rustici, a man passionate about ranching, science and conservation.

“Russ believed in conservation of ranching and rangeland – which he saw as one in the same,” Tate says. “And he saw the value in investment. Throughout the years, Russ provided seed money and other support to our team of researchers from different disciplines, different colleges and different campuses, investing in the science necessary to protect rangeland for future generations.”

Rustici wasn’t born into cattle ranching. He was a native of San Francisco, the son of a produce seller. After serving in the Army Infantry Corps in World War II (he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge), Rustici graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Class of ’48. He went to work for his father’s Sunset Produce Company, later becoming a partner. He retired from Sunset Produce in the 1960s and moved to Lake County to pursue his lifelong dream – to live a quintessential western life as a cattle rancher.

He embraced it whole-heartedly, taping into resources available to a new rancher, most of all the UC continuum that delivers basic research to the people it serves. He understood that the research continuum - from faculty to UC Cooperative Extension (CE) specialists to CE farm advisors to (in his case) ranchers – depended on input from ranchers like himself, and he had no qualms about providing feedback.

“I learned that the first time I met Russ in October 1995,” Tate says. “I was 28 years old, recently hired by the department, asked to give a two-hour presentation to a group of ranchers in Ukiah. My talk was pretty text book.”

Rustici approached him afterwards and in his polite, if gruff, manner told Tate all the things he could improve next time. “He told me what information ranchers were really looking for us to provide,” Tate remembers.

Over the years, Rustici was always in the audience at rancher field days and California Cattlemen Association events, asking questions, taking notes. “He once stood up and pointed his finger at the other ranchers and said, ‘You need to pay attention to these guys,’ ” Tate remembers.

Rustici opened his ranch to researchers to test water quality and other sustainability issues. He conducted tests of his own, as well, Tate says.

“He was very interested not just in what was happening on his ranch but also in how runoff from his land affected the land around him,” Tate says. “He cared about sustainability and ensuring rangelands would stay healthy for future generations.”

Scientifically, Rustici was a taskmaster.

“He didn’t want your opinion,” Tate says. “He wanted to make decisions based upon data, not opinion.”

And he invested in that science, early and often. Seed money from Rustici helped the University assemble a multi-disciplinary team still addressing rangeland issues to this day. The core team included CE Specialist Tate (range hydrology), Professor Dahlgren (biogeochemistry), CE Specialist Rob Atwill from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Science (epidemiology) and Professor Barbara Allen-Diaz, Russell Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland  Management at UC Berkeley and associate vice president of ANR (ecology). Joining the team more recently is Associate CE Specialist Toby O’Geen from the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources (soil science).

“No one of us could do what the combination of us can do,” Tate says. “We each bring unique approaches to the study of rangeland systems. And that cross pollination strengthens our collaborative research.”

Rustici endowed the chair at UC Berkeley five years ago, naming Allen-Diaz to the position.

“Russ was very adamant, when making his gifts, that they initially support specific people,” Tate says. “He named the people who had caused him to respect the UC system.”

Rustici also established a number of scholarships for students, including one administered by the California Farm Bureau Federation Scholarship which funds education for students who intend to ranch or work on rangelands.

“Russ did all he could during his life and now after his death to support the next generation of ranchers and range managers,” Tate says.

Tate received his Ph.D. in water resources from Oklahoma State University, where he was a USDA National Needs Fellow. His M.S. and B.S. in range science and management were also completed at Oklahoma State. Tate is a state and national Certified Rangeland Manager and in 2000 he was named Outstanding Young Range Professional by the Society for Range Management.

Tate’s research and outreach focuses on the diverse managed ecosystems that make up California’s rangelands, promoting rangeland management that supports the many benefits society receives from rangelands, including clean water, biodiversity and agricultural productivity. Tate is also the department’s vice chair for outreach and extension.

The Russell L. Rustici Endowed Specialist in Cooperative Extension in Rangeland Watershed Sciences will support research and outreach programs related to California rangelands, guaranteeing that UC Davis will retain a strong range science component into the future. In the near term, the endowment will provide funding for collaborative work with colleagues to prepare a new book, "Biogeochemistry of Mediterranean Watersheds," which will be dedicated to Rustici.


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