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Glenda Humiston, a longtime Sonoma County resident with deep roots in farming and ranching, has been tapped to fill a high-profile position at the University of California, leading several agricultural and environmental initiatives throughout the 10-campus system.

Humiston, 56, who now lives in Novato with her wife, was named by UC President Janet Napolitano this month as vice president of the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“I’m excited beyond belief,” Humiston said in an interview. “This is such an opportunity to make a difference on many levels.”

In her new role, Humiston will oversee four key areas, including promoting nutrition and access to healthy food, sustainable agriculture practices, environmentally friendly pest management and youth programs such as 4-H.

County officials applauded Humiston’s appointment, saying her knowledge and connection to the county is poised to benefit an array of programs surrounding agriculture and local efforts to combat climate change.

Humiston said her background and decades of experience in farming, natural resources and public policy have prepared her for her new role. She will oversee 1,350 people working in 60 offices across California, nine research and extension centers, as well as administrative functions. She replaces Barbara Allen-Diaz, the former vice president, who retired.

“Glenda Humiston is a great fit for the UC system at a time when drought has heightened the importance of sustainable agricultural practices,” Napolitano said in a news release. “She is a knowledgeable, thoughtful and action-oriented leader who will expand the impact of an agriculture and natural resources division whose reach already extends across the globe.”

Humiston grew up a rancher’s daughter, raising cattle in Colorado. She led sustainable development programs at a 2002 World Summit in South Africa, as well as a global water forum in Mexico City in 2006. Early in her career, she served in the Peace Corps in Tunisia.

She credits her participation in 4-H as a kid with developing what has become her life’s work in farmland preservation and environmental sustainability — often competing interests.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to bridge agriculture and environmental issues,” Humiston said. “What people don’t realize is it’s a natural bridge. When people get past the fighting, they often realize we have 80 percent in common.”

Humiston will leave a high-level post in the Obama administration as California director for rural development under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She also served in the Clinton administration as deputy undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture.

She lived in Sonoma County for about 15 years, where she worked on similar issues for the now defunct Sonoma County Farmlands Group, an organization started in the 1980s to advocate on behalf of farmers and their land. She also worked for AGvocate, a former Sonoma County agricultural consulting firm.

Humiston said in her new position, her work will benefit Sonoma County more directly than her presidential appointments.

“We’re doing some really cutting- edge work with the local ecosystems up there,” she said. “One thing we’re trying to do is make the case that a lot of agricultural projects really do sequester carbon and because of that, they should receive cap and trade funds as an investment.”

Humiston is working with the local UC Cooperative Extension to explore how the county can help address the impacts of climate change with agriculture — projects such as improving soil health to retain more water, strengthening stream banks to help protect sensitive plant and wildlife habitat, and promoting sustainable livestock grazing to improve habitat for endangered species.

“It’s really exciting,” said Stephanie Larson, director for the local UC Cooperative Extension. “If you think about Sonoma County, we have a half-million acres that can function as some form of working landscape — like forest lands, croplands and water. Everything has an opportunity and these are going to be key to address drought and climate change.”

Supervisor James Gore, also a former Obama appointee at the Department of Agriculture, in the National Resources Conservation Service, applauded Humiston’s appointment.

“It’s exceptional because we have all these innovative things we’re working on, and by linking up with the (University of California), Glenda can help us scale our environmental and sustainable agricultural goals in a meaningful way,” Gore said. “Her roots run deep here, so she understands what makes this county so unique.”

Humiston, with a breadth of experience also in economics and food policy, also is positioned to deploy those skills to benefit the region. One such project is connected with a 5,300-acre experimental farm in Hopland.

The Mendocino County town is home to acres of oak woodland, grassland, chaparral and riparian habitat that function as a science experiment in sustainable agriculture practices, plant ecology, watershed management, wildlife biology and how food systems can benefit public health.

Humiston will directly oversee the program in Hopland and nine others throughout California.

“We’re focusing on sheep grazing there and other work that needs research like native crops,” she said. “I’m looking forward to really expanding the strengths and the ability for the (Cooperative) Extension to serve agriculture and natural resources.”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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