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Whether he is hurtling down a mountain bike trail in Corvallis' McDonald Forest or heading up a 20-member faculty at Oregon State University, Bill Boggess keeps his cool, his sense of humor and his focus.

The energetic, athletic head of OSU's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics often finds himself in a mediation role. He's known for likening academic politics to "herding cats," and he favors open doors over confidential memos.

Bill Boggess.

Bill Boggess. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

"I see my role as minimizing the red tape," Boggess said. "I try to insulate (the faculty members) from overhead bureaucracy, find resources for them and let them do what they're hired to do."

Hired in May 1995, Boggess, now 46, became one of the youngest department heads at OSU. He quickly established that innovation and a sense of humor were "key elements of his management style," said friend and colleague Erik Fritzell, who leads OSU's fisheries and wildlife department.

Fritzell said Boggess' straight-talking edge was evident in his first weeks on the job.

"Right after Bill got here, he had to do faculty evaluations," Fritzell said. "He hardly even knew the faculty, and he just wasn't prepared to do any sophisticated evaluation scheme we'd typically do. So he asked them each to finish a sentence: "The people of Oregon are getting their money's worth out of me because."

Rich Adams, a professor of agricultural economics and an expert on the effect of global climate change on agriculture, doesn't recall how he answered Boggess' question, but he said it impressed him.

"It's a good question to raise," Adams said. "We should all be held accountableto the public." He said Boggess has both good management skills and long-term vision.

Vision is important in the emerging field of agricultural resources and economics, which seeks ways to put agriculture in balance with both its environment and its economics.

Adams said the faculty welcomed the stability that Boggess brought to the department after a series of short-term appointments following the resignation of long-time department head Gene Nelson.

Part of Boggess' job was to help the department adapt to changes in shifting land management policies related to agriculture.

"We're helping move from an era of 'command and control' of agriculture to one that involves using market mechanisms and economic incentives to help find long-term solutions," Boggess said.

For example, the department recently has helped the state of Oregon develop incentives to encourage farmers to establish and protect streamside vegetation to improve water quality and temperatures for fish and other aquatic life.

The department also seeks ways to improve marketing of Oregon commodities and products.

Both segments of his profession benefit the things dear to Boggess: family and the land.

He grew up the third of seven children on "the storybook Iowa small farm," which he displays in a framed photo behind his desk.

It was a place where all the children had assigned chores and their own long-range goals.

Boggess' goals always included a life in agriculture. He graduated from Iowa State University and went on to earn his doctorate there in 1979, with a specialty in water resources.

Boggess next accepted a job with the University of Florida. There he rose through the academic ranks for 16 years, balancing his energy between teaching, research and a growing log of administrative and community outreach duties.

His expertise in water resources led to his development of a plan to help Florida solve its problem of high phosphorous loading in its subtropical, water-dependent ecosystem. The model he helped develop is still being used by the South Florida Water Management District.

When Boggess decided to seek a career change, he had specific criteria in mind:

"I was looking for something in administration, in a relatively small department with a strong reputation and a focus in resource and environmental economics."

OSU was perfect. It was the right size, had the right reputation and gave him a chance to use both his administrative and teaching skills.

Further, Oregon's agricultural industry had many similarities to Florida's. Both are very diversified, both are dependent on high-value exports and both are facing important resource conflicts relating to land use, endangered species and water issues.

That is the resource economics portion of the department's mandate. The department also seeks ways to improve marketing of commodities and products, from Oregon wines to farmers' markets.

OSU's agricultural and resource economics department will collaborate with the Oregon Department of Agriculture in the operation of a new Food Innovation Center in downtown Portland. Scheduled for completion next summer, the center will promote value-added processing and help Oregon's agricultural producers identify potential markets for value-added products.

The demands of his job take up most of his time these days, so Boggess spends his spare time with his wife, Carolyn, and their sons, Matthew, 5, and Michael, 3. He and his eldest son, Anthony, 20, spend their vacations together working toward their goal of climbing all the volcanic peaks in the Cascades Range.

Challenges are good, Boggess said. The students in his "Introduction to Environmental Economics and Policy" class know this already.

"Challenging exams reward good students," Boggess said. "It makes it clear what I expect."