CSU Extension: Expanding Our Reach Every Day in Every County

By Ragan Adams  

CSU Extension

In 1912, D.C. Bascom of Logan County became the first CSU Extension agent. In that year, he logged 14,000 miles, sharing farming techniques appropriate for the dry soils and high altitude of Colorado to homesteaders. Bascom also ordered “kids clubs,” where he taught children to raise livestock and grow corn and wheat. These clubs were the predecessor of 4-H, now America’s largest youth development organization. For the next 100 years, local Extension agents continued to link University Based research with the experiential based practices of the community to improve responses to challenges such as family, business, natural resources, agriculture, world wars, and economic depressions. Presently, natural disasters and infectious disease outbreaks in animals and people are more frequent and need Extension’s attention. One in three Americans lived in a county hit by a weather disaster in the summer of 2021, according to a Washington Post analysis. The threat struck home in Colorado last month when the Marshall Fire roared through Boulder County, incinerating nearly 1,000 structures, and in 2020 when the Cameron Peak Fire scorched more than 200,000 acres – the biggest blaze in state history.

Following Colorado’s wildfires in 2020, Vice President for Engagement and Extension Blake Naughton formalized his support for Extension’s role helping with local disasters by requiring all CSU Extension agents to take basic FEMA courses and meet with county emergency managers to prepare for disasters.

Extension is an important part of FEMA’s 2011 Whole Community approach to disaster response. This strategy emphasizes the need for the full capacity of a community to collaborate on the three phases of emergency management: preparedness, response, and recovery. Thus, the responsibility no longer lies only with first responders, but necessitates the year-round involvement of the private and nonprofit sectors with the general public and all levels of governmental partners.

CSU has also strengthened its involvement with the national Extension Disaster Educational Network. This USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded network, composed of representatives from Extension organizations in 50 states and two territories, shares educational material and experiences about disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Relationships formed across this network facilitate regional cooperation during multistate disasters.

CSU EXTENSION AND NATURAL DISASTERS

Here are a few examples of emergency management efforts in Colorado supported by Extension:

Retta Bruegger, Western Region Extension rangeland specialist, has gathered ranchers, professional colleagues, and community residents to discuss drought planning since 2018. These groups create long-range and innovative responses to unprecedented drought conditions.

Karen Crumbaker, Larimer County natural resource agent, has partnered with other agents along the Front Range to help residents living at the wildland-urban interface to protect their properties from fire. Last year’s four-week series, Wildfire Wednesdays, attracted 751 registrants.

Dan Schroder is a one-man show in the Summit County Extension office. He offers wildfire prevention programs but also is a voice in multiple organizations for healthy forests and proactive county wildfire preparedness.

MyPI, a national youth preparedness initiative, has been offered to Colorado 4-H youth since 2018. Teenagers complete the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/FEMA-certified CERT training and build personal preparedness plans with families to increase the overall resiliency of their community.

In the south-central part of the state, Michael Fisher, Pueblo County director, is partnering with other counties in his region and Homeland Security specialist Christe Coleman to develop a strike force team of agents who can be shared across counties.

During disaster, county Extension agents assist with logistics and operations. Their relationships with community members and knowledge of available resources are valuable to the incident command team. Extension often leads the team that supports agriculture and natural resources. The most common job is assistance with evacuation and sheltering of animals, both pets and livestock. Last summer, under local Extension leadership, counties prepared for animal needs in their own counties and neighboring counties facing large wildfires.

After the first responders leave, the community assumes the complicated process of recovery. County Extension agents shine in this stage of emergency management because of their local knowledge and relationships and their connections with state and federal agencies, as well as their talents with volunteers and partnership development. CSU and Boulder County extension teams have been involved in immediate and ongoing support after the Marshall Fire. The Boulder County team is the boots on the ground response with the CSU and state teams, providing backup and additional support where needed. They created a bilingual “After the Disaster Guidebook” to help officials and local residents with restoration and recovery.

Farm Pigs

Blake Osborn, an Extension regional water specialist, developed a program in 2018 to assist private landowners with their post-wildfire damage. The value of the Watershed Assessment Vulnerability Evaluation has been recognized by Colorado Department of Agriculture and will receive financial support to expand capacity from the 2021 state drought recovery bill.

After the 2020 Colorado fires, the state recovery team formed a task force specifically focused on agricultural needs, co-led by CDA and CSU Extension. This group initially focused on disseminating information about repairing the burned landscape to private agriculturists. Last summer, in cooperation with CDOT and agricultural producers, the task force focused on supporting the challenges of transporting perishable products such as fruit, vegetables, and livestock, due to disruptions along I-70, the major corridor to urban markets.

NOT JUST ABOUT NATURAL DISASTERS

Extension agents play a large role in preventing and responding to human and animal health crises as well. Community economic development initiatives facilitated by Extension will help strategize local recovery plans. The CSU Board of Governors has designated $8.5 million to improve the health and economies of rural counties.

Animal health and welfare has always been part of Extension programming, especially in areas where veterinarians are in short supply. On the prevention side, Extension agents educate 4-H participants and animal producers about husbandry practices and biosecurity protocols that decrease the likelihood that animals develop infectious disease. This year, CSU Extension partnered with Washington State University and University of California Davis Extension programs for funding from the USDA National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program to focus delivery of biosecurity education to previously underserved livestock producers.

Extension personnel are also involved in preparation for the potential arrival of African swine fever in the United States. For example, the virus can remain viable in food waste if it is not sufficiently cooked before feeding to animals, though some producers feed raw food waste from local schools and restaurants to their animals, thus decreasing waste sent to landfills.

Presently, the U.S. pork industry and the USDA APHIS are ramping up biosecurity against African swine fever. This very infectious disease of pigs that has never been identified in the United States was found within the Dominican Republic last July.

Also, to prevent foot-and-mouth disease, Frank Garry, CSU professor and veterinary Extension specialist, has assembled a team consisting of personnel from Dr. Colleen Webb’s laboratory on systems disease modeling, CSU Ag Next, and USDA APHIS to assist Maggie Baldwin, the Colorado state veterinarian, to develop Colorado plans. The e ort could eventually lead to multistate cooperative efforts.

CSU Extension local personnel are deeply committed to building resilience within their communities. Their e orts span multiple topics, from youth development to small-acreage management, family and business financial stability, community and individual health, promoting sustainable agriculture, and protecting natural resources such as rangelands and watersheds. This consistent presence in good times and bad enhances their reputation as trusted partners in the community and fortifies the land-grant mission.

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