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Crawford: Biologist Co-Founded Program

By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
          Cliff Crawford
        University of New Mexico biologists Cliff Crawford and Manuel Molles used to call themselves "los niños del bosque."
        "That's just what it was like," Molles said Tuesday, "running around our favorite ecosystem like a couple of kids, interpreting its changes through the seasons and years for hundreds of eager undergraduates and graduate students."
        The pair founded the university's Bosque Biology program in the late 1980s, and Crawford went on in retirement to help establish the Bosque Environmental Monitoring Program, a research and education endeavor that has taught thousands of younger students about science in the riverside ecosystem that runs through Albuquerque's heart.
        "I think he accomplished as much in retirement as many people did in their careers," said Cliff Dahm, a long time UNM colleague.
        Crawford died Saturday after a brief battle with cancer.
        Crawford's grace and enthusiasm for study and teaching about his beloved bosque were captured by Bandelier Elementary School teacher Mary Erwin, describing Crawford's time in the field with her students: "The world's preeminent bosque scientist would patiently answer every question from my 8-year-old students," she said. "He treated them with honor as fellow scientists."
        Clifford Smeed Crawford was born July 30, 1932, in Beirut, the son of a biologist who taught, among other places, at American University of Beirut.
        With a British mother and American father, Crawford's childhood was international, with time spent living in Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, the United States and Great Britain.
        After attending Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., Crawford earned his doctorate at Washington State University and taught at Portland State University in Oregon before joining UNM's faculty in 1964.
        His heart was apparently in the arid climates in which he lived as a boy. "When he came to New Mexico, he said it was like going back to the Middle East," said his wife, Claudia Crawford.
        As a scientist, Crawford's speciality was desert insects. But it was his growing interest in the riverside ecosystems of central New Mexico — the strip of woods along the Rio Grande known as the "bosque" — that left his most indelible mark, according to friends and colleagues.
        When Crawford and Molles began taking their UNM undergraduates to the bosque for a field study class in 1987, the ecosystem was clearly in decline, but scientists had very little data on which to base their understanding of the changes.
        UNM's biology department had been taking students for field classes to places like Jamaica, said Molles. "Meanwhile, our backyard had this unstudied ecosystem," Molles recalled.
        As an outdoor classroom, the bosque provided a superb teaching environment, according to Molles — scientifically interesting and easy to get to. "The students loved it," Dahm said.
        But it was important science, too, as the pair's students began systematically documenting the decline of the cottonwood forests.
        The classes also left a legacy of former students who now can be found staffing the government agencies that work on bosque issues. "He has been a great mentor to me over the past 15 years, as well as a great friend," said Ondrea Hummel, a former student who is now a biologist overseeing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect endangered species along the river.
        After his retirement from UNM's faculty in 1994, Crawford continued his work on the Rio Grande ecosystem, helping establish the Bosque Environmental Monitoring Program, which continues the tradition of combining education and real data collection, this time with elementary and high school students.
        Today some 3,000 young people a year spend time in the bosque via the program, said its director, Dan Shaw.
        Crawford stayed active in the program until the end, having last been in the field with students in June, Shaw said.
        "He was always happy to be in the field," said Kim Eichhorst, another former student who now is co-director of the Bosque Environmental Monitoring Program.
        Crawford is survived by his wife Claudia; brother Forrest Crawford; daughters Rebecca Ruegg-Crawford and Ann Crawford; and son Bruce Crawford.
        Services are today, 4 p.m., at Central United Methodist Church, 201 University NE.

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