The remote and beautiful UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center near Tule Lake will be under new leadership when its long-time director, Harry Carlson, steps down from what he calls the "best job in UC Cooperative Extension."
Carlson retired in June but will serve as interim director of the center on a part-time basis while a search for his replacement takes place.
Carlson graduated from Davis High School and later attended UC Davis, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1970 in wildlife and fisheries biology, a master's degree in 1981 in agronomy and a doctorate in 1984 in ecology.
He was named the agronomy advisor for Modoc and Siskiyou counties in 1981, but almost immediately took on the additional role of director of the 140-acre research and extension center, where studies focus on potatoes, alfalfa, grains and onions. Attesting to the appeal of the job, Carlson held the position for 28 years and was preceded in the post by only one other farm advisor, Ken Baghott, in the station's 62-year history.
Carlson attributes his enthusiasm for working in the extreme northeastern part of California in part to its distinction as one of the last California locations for homesteaders. Following World War II, college-educated veterans began farming the area's agricultural land around the same time the station was founded.
"When I came on board, the original homesteaders were still making decisions, but the operations were beginning to be turned over to the next generation," Carlson said.
Like their parents, the younger farmers were bright, innovative, early adopters.
"Unlike other areas where farm advisors might be trying to convince farmers to adopt new practices, I was in the position of asking people to wait a year to be sure of our research results," Carlson said.
Early on in his career, farmers began raising concerns about a new nematode found in their potato fields. Twenty acres of nematode-infested land was donated to the center for University team research on nematode biology and control, Carlson said. Ultimately the research resulted in a dozen recommendations for nematode management. Over the course of his career, Carlson also conducted research and educational programs in insect, weed and disease management and in variety development in several crops. He conducted many research projects and held workshops on crop water use, irrigation efficiency and irrigation scheduling.
A defining moment in his career came in 2001, when drought conditions triggered a cut-off of all irrigation water to producers in the area in order to protect two species of endangered suckers and endangered salmon in the Klamath River and upper Klamath Lake.
Carlson served as an advisor and educator to producers, scientists and regulators as the crisis unfolded. For example, he coordinated a symposium on evapotranspiration to counter unsupported claims about how much water agriculture uses compared to wetlands.
"Decisions were often clouded by misinformation," Carlson said. "There were missteps, mainly due to the way laws were written and enforced by wildlife agencies. The crisis was a wakeup call that such decisions can have wide-ranging impacts. The stakeholders are determined to develop more of a planned response so future water shortages don't come as such a drastic shock."
The two sucker species have made a comeback in the region, but are not at historical levels of abundance, Carlson said. Salmon are still struggling. Government agencies, Indian tribes and irrigators are continuing their efforts to implement a settlement agreement.
In 1997, Carlson was promoted to director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resource's 10-site research and Extension center system and based at UC Davis. However, three years later, the call of Tule Lake's wide open spaces, wildlife, beautiful climate and innovative farmers drew him back, where his old job was still vacant.
Even in retirement, Carlson says he will stay in the area. Retirement will give him time to enjoy the area's hunting and fishing, complete home remodeling projects and train his four Labrador retrievers for field trial competitions.
Carlson said he is proud of the many improvements made at the center during his tenure, including land acquisition, new research facilities and field research equipment. The center, he said, is well equipped and staffed with top-notch research personnel.
"My successor may also lay claim to the best job in the university," he said.