Educated as an ecologist, University of Washington, Seattle (BS, ’68; PhD, ’75), I joined Cornell in 1976 with an extension/research appointment. Following various administrative assignments, I now pursue teaching and research in community-based conservation, primarily in developing countries.
James Lassoie was educated as forest tree ecophysiologist and his early research focused on the ecology, management, and physiology of temperate forest tree species. He was particularly interested in the physiological impacts of air pollution and acidic precipitation on forest trees and worked jointly with scientists at Boyce Thompson Institute, where he held an Adjunct Scientist appointment for many years. In the mid-1980s, Lassoie began changing his research program to focus more on international environmental and conservation problems, sustainable development, eco-tourism, community-based natural resource management, and the role of trees in agricultural systems of developing countries and rural North America (i.e., agroforestry). He currently studies the role of local communities and indigenous peoples in the establishment and management of parks and protected areas, sustainable natural resource management including agroforestry and ecoagriculture, and the application of interdisciplinary science to conservation. Three general questions now motivate his research. First, what are the primary ecological and social variables underpinning the decision-making process related to conservation, natural resource and environmental management, and sustainable development? Second, how can local communities become more effectively involved in such decision-making processes? And lastly, how can ‘authentic’ learning be incorporated into courses addressing conservation and sustainable development? He is particularly interested in examining coupled human and natural systems involving the management of parks, protected areas, and otherwise fragile landscapes in developing countries as well as the United States. He commonly pursues these interests by working with graduate students, many from the countries under investigation. Lassoie has served as the major advisor for 41 Masters and 25 Ph.D. students, and presently advise eight graduate students (2 Masters and 6 Ph.Ds.) with projects in Bhutan, Central America, Mali, Mexico, Nepal, and United States. He has assisted with research and development projects in many other countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Sumatra, the Swazi Nation, and Zimbabwe. Lassoie and his wife, Dr. Ruth E. Sherman, worked with The Nature Conservancy between 2003 and 2004 to develop and monitor conservation strategies for parks and protected areas in Yunnan Province in south-central China. We were particularly focused on the ecological impacts of grazing and harvesting of non-timber forest products, including medicinal plants, on alpine ecosystems in northwestern Yunnan. He also helped to develop comprehensive ecological measures of success for different conservation interventions at both the project and ecoregional levels. In particular, Lassoie developed a ground-based, photo-monitoring methodology for assessing ecological changes across large ecoregions. They recently initiated new work in China with collaborators at Beijing Normal University, the Center for Mountain Ecosystem Studies, and The Nature Conservancy. His primary focus for the next five years will be to examine coupled systems in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas with collaborators at Beijing Normal University, where he currently holds an Adjunct Professor position. Lassoie also will continue to develop www.AgricultureBridge.org as a tool for connecting students and practitioners to enhance multidisciplinary experiential learning and collaborative problem-solving. This work involves collaborators at Cornell, the University of California – Berkley, and Ecoagriculture Partners (www.ecoagriculture.org).
Outreach and Extension Focus
From 1976 to 1988 Lassoie’s responsibilities at Cornell included a 70% time commitment to Cornell Cooperative Extension, specifically to develop public education programs related to non-industrial uses of private forestlands as the State Extension Forester. He wrote extensively about forestry and promoted and participated in many public information meetings covering such topics as woodland and wildlife ecology and management, firewood production and use, forestland liability and taxation, and general conservation and land use. During his years as an academic administrator, 1988 to 2002, his involvement in extension was limited to administrative oversight. He currently holds a small time commitment to extension/service and focus primarily on working with conservation non-governmental organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, Finger Lakes Land Trust, and the E.L. Rose Conservancy of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. In collaboration with the Rose Conservancy, Lassoie has led an interdisciplinary, applied conservation project for ten years, Community-based conservation management of a rural watershed in northern Pennsylvania, supported by annual gifts from family foundation.
What stimulated Lassoie to follow an academic career was a professor with outstanding undergraduate teaching skills who not only communicated information, but also motivated students to learn. His occasional transgressions of facts and details passed without notice as his style, approach, and use of personal experiences and insights opened learning horizons that Lassoie still pursues. It is rather ironic that despite his desire to emulate, Lassoie was at Cornell for 25 years before assuming major responsibilities for undergraduate instruction. During this time, he was heavily committed to first Cooperative Extension and then academic administration. Lassoie was able to design and teach graduate and undergraduate courses in introductory forestry and agroforestry and an interdisciplinary graduate-level course on conservation and sustainable development, which included a research field practicum in Latin America, plus periodic graduate seminars. However, the results were generally modest and the impact likely fleeting. Hence, he approached the undergraduate classroom in 2001 relatively inexperienced and with trepidation, as poor teaching is not acceptable behavior in the Department of Natural Resources. Attending the College’s Thornfield Experience: Promoting More Effective Teaching the summer before Lassoie was to face 55 first-year students for the first time proved to be a lifesaver. He recalls, and often repeats for others, likely the best single piece of advice a teacher can receive: “Focus on what the students are learning, rather than what you are teaching.” That simple lesson along with a commitment to develop an experiential, authentic learning environment inside the classroom has guided his teaching since. Fall semesters he co-teaches a required, introductory course in natural resources and environmental sciences and teaches an elective, upper division international conservation course. He also co-leads a multi-departmental global seminar course spring semesters that links students at institutions around the world to address issues related to development and sustainability. This course relies totally on the use of case studies. Based on this experience he incorporated the use of case studies into his other two courses. Fall semester 2007 Lassoie greatly modified the case study portion of his international conservation course by incorporating direct linkages to six field sites using a newly designed Internet platform, www.ConservationBridge.org. He is currently working to expand the use of this innovative instructional tool that links classrooms to conservation practitioners around the world as the Project Director for a three-year USDA Higher Education Challenge Grant: Agriculture Bridge: Connecting Students and Practitioners to Enhance Multidisciplinary Experiential Learning and Collaborative Problem-solving. He currently is revising his international conservation course with assistance from two undergraduate students who took the course last fall, and a Research Librarian from Mann Library. They are specifically building innovative approaches to incorporating Information Competency into learning exercises, and to further enhancing the interactive, collaborative learning environment that characterizes this course.
Awards and Honors
- Faculty Fellow (2009) ACSF, Cornell University
- Fellow (2009) Ecoagriculture Partners
- International Professor (2002) CALS, Cornell University
- Engaged Learning + Research Faculty Fellow (2016) Cornell University
- Kaplan Family Distinguished Faculty Fellowship in Service-Learning (2015) Public Service Center, Cornell University
- Wang, P., Lassoie, J. P., Morreale, S. J., & Dong, S. (2015). A critical review of socioeconomic and natural factors in ecological degradation on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China. The Rangeland Journal. 37:1-9.
- DONG, S. K., Lassoie, J. P., WEN, L., ZHU, L., LI, X. Y., LI, J. P., & LI., Y. Y. (2012). Degradation of rangeland ecosystems in the developing world: Tragedy of breaking coupled human-natural systems. Journal of Sustainable Society. 4:357-371.
- Pollini, J., & Lassoie, J. P. (2011). Trapping community-based natural resource management approaches within global governance regimes: The case of the GELOSE legislation in Madagascar. Society and Natural Resources. 24:814-830.
- Dong , S. k., Wen, L., Liu, S. L., Zhang, X. F., Lassoie, J. P., Yi, S. L., Li, X., Li, J., & Li, Y. (2011). Vulnerability of worldwide pastoralism to global changes and interdisciplinary strategies for sustainable pastoralism. Ecology and Society. 16:10.
- Heffernan, L., Lassoie, J. P., & Bills, N. L. (2011). An assessment of the English Farm Woodland Premium Scheme and its ability to promote and sustain environmental improvements. Journal of Sustainable Forestry. 30:441-458.
- Asse, R., & Lassoie, J. P. (2011). Household decision-making in agroforestry parklands of Sudano- Sahelian Mali. Agroforestry Systems. 82:247-261.
- Lassoie, J. P., ,, & Sherman, R. E. (2010). Promoting a coupled human and natural systems approach to addressing conservation in complex mountainous landscapes of Northwest Yunnan, China. Frontiers of Earth Science in China. 4:67-82.
Presentations and Activities
- Linking Students to Researchers and Practitioners to Enhance Interdisciplinary Experiential Learning. Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES): Building a Community to Transform Undergraduate STEM Education. January 2013. NSF/AAAS . Wshington, DC.
- Creative Multi-media Approaches to Conservation Education for the Next Generation. Life on Earth - Preserving, Utilizing, and Sustaining our Ecosystems. August 2012. Ecological Society of America. Portland, Orregon.