Thadis W. Box, dean of the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University for nearly 20 years, shocked his department Thursday by announcing he is retiring.
In a Deseret News telephone interview, Box leveled a stinging blow at the tax limitation measures upon which Utahns will vote Nov. 8. But he said they are not the reason for his retirement."I have a strong personal philosophy that one shouldn't be in an administrative position after one is 60 years old," he said. He'll be 60 in May, and might still be dean at that time, as he is willing to stay on until a replacement is found, until the start of fall quarter 1989, if necessary.
Box is world-renowned for his expertise in natural resources, particularly rangeland conditions. His awards include several from the Society for Range Management, and he has worked on drought issues in northeastern Africa.
Box served on the Interior Department's Oil Shale Environmental Advisory Panel, the National Advisory Board for Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros. He's been a rancher and farm director, and a professional consultant to the United Nations, Ford Foundation, Texas Board of Realtors, and numerous ranching operations.
Box said he isn't retiring because of the tax initiatives, which could slash the budget of state schools like USU, because he does not think they will be approved. "I don't believe the people of Utah will do it," he said.
"I think they recognize that we need strong institutions and that we need centers of excellence that will attract brainpower and funds to the state of Utah. I don't think the people of Utah are ready to commit suicide."
But if the initiatives pass, he said, "then everybody in Utah is going to have to rethink what this state is about, and there is no doubt that we will lose greatly. There will be a lot of very fine scientists who will leave this state."
Utah's natural resources are in fine condition, he said. The range is better than ever before in the 20th century, with much of the improvement in the past two decades, Box believes.
"We have gotten better management on the land - many of them, I hope, are Utah State University students. And we have had many wet years."
But he is disturbed by the present drought, worried that it may be the first foreshadowing of a worldwide climatic change.
If the drought continues, many gains will be wiped out, he said. There will be more conflicts about such issues as grazing on the public land, as resources are placed under greater stress.
The hole in the ozone layer, the apparent heating up of the Earth's atmosphere, the drought this summer - all may be connected in a Greenhouse Effect, he said.
"The Greenhouse Effect certainly is speeded up by man," Box said. "It's primarily caused by burning of fossil fuels." As more and more smoke enters the atmosphere, the dark particles absorb sunlight and heat up the air.
A warming trend might be part of a natural process, "but we're talking in geological time - we're talking thousands of years," Box said.
There seems no doubt that the atmosphere is changing now, not in a eons-long shift, he said.
Box said these are exciting times, with the climatic changes, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the revolution in better building materials, the fact that America's average age is going up.
What may be the most important change is "our global economy," Box said. What happens in Tokyo or Frankfurt may be vital to how we market Utah wool.
Box said Utah's big income-producing industries are agriculture, mining and tourism. "All three of those are tied to Utah's natural resources," he said.
If the state is to continue being the kind of place Utahns want, they must care for the natural resources, he said.
Box joked that he surprised the faculty in his department by giving them a pep talk in which he said, "This is a wonderful job and I quit!"
He intends to continue trying to make a difference in education and the management of natural resources. "My base of operations will be located where I've grown up - here."
He said USU is a good institution and the College of Natural Resources is one of the premiere resources of its kind in the world.
He will request appointment as a professor emeritus, so he can continue to help the school.
At one time he considered stepping down as dean and going back to the teaching faculty. But he realized, "they couldn't afford me," he said.
When he retires, he will live on his retirement income and continue to write, maybe teaching if the department asks him.