Congratulations to Dr. Joel R. Brown: Thanks for your commitment to get the science right

by Brandon Bestelmeyer


On February 25th, 2023, Dr. Joel Raymond Brown retired from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) after 45 years. Joel is one of the most influential rangeland scientists of his generation and we are grateful for his service as a Jornada scientist for 25 years. His presence has provided an essential link between ARS science and agency practice (and he will continue to be a Jornada scientist, see below).


Joel has devoted his professional career to critical analysis of the basic tenets of rangeland science and management to “get them right”. In the 1980s he challenged the use of the rangeland condition and trend concept that paved the way for the incorporation of state and transition concepts into rangeland management, revisions to Ecological Site Descriptions, and ultimately his recent role as National Leader of the Ecological Site Team for NRCS. During his time as a research scientist and Program Leader with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in northern Australia, his concepts led to a shift from broad-scale weed control to a strategic intervention approach subsequently employed in extension and management. As a Special Advisor to the Chief of NRCS, he was also instrumental in developing guidelines for carbon contracts in rangelands, and has provided scientific guidance and critique regarding the role of rangeland management in carbon sequestration. Dr. Brown also contributed to our understanding of the mechanisms of woody plant encroachment, climate change effects on rangelands, drought management, and ecosystem service perspectives.


Joel’s leadership has influenced numerous institutions. As a state rangeland conservationist for the NRCS in California, he advanced water quality education that led to voluntary clean water programs that became widely adopted by state and federal agencies. In his role as a cooperating scientist the Jornada, he introduced a research program on ecological sites that became a primary element of our research, and that subsequently advanced related work in several universities and internationally, including a national ecological site program in Mongolia. Since 2012, Joel has served as the senior science advisor for the USDA Southwest Climate Hub, providing guidance on climate adaptation strategies and applications built on his lifetime of experience. We are fortunate that he will continue to serve as a Climate Hub advisor at the Jornada and that both he and Peggy (see photo) will continue to be part of the Jornada community.


Most of all, Joel has been a fierce advocate for clear thinking and evidence-based policy in rangelands. We owe him both gratitude for his untiring efforts and a commitment to uphold the integrity of science that is applied to management and policy in the years ahead.


Joel receiving the Fredric G Renner award from the Society for Range Management in 2019 for his contributions to the society and profession


This article was first published in the March 2023 issue of the Jornada Newsletter and is reproduced here with their permission.  The March Jornada Newsletter can be accessed via this link