Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

ENTERPRISE — On his last full day in the Wallowa County Extension Office before hitting the high lonesome retirement trail, John Williams was late for an exit interview with The Observer.

With precious few hours left as the county’s extension agent, Williams was still downloading information to his staff. A glance around his office revealed evidence that he had started collecting his personal effects.

Wrapping up his meeting in the conference room, Williams went to his office and sat down at his writing desk with a glaringly noticeable bare spot where piles of paperwork used to sit.

He picked up a plastic bottle in the shape of a bear.

“I found this cleaning out my desk. Did you know honey is the perfect food? Its lactose gives you that blast of energy when you first eat it, and the fructose gives you energy released over time,” Williams said.

Always teaching, Williams comes from a long line of educators and ranchers. He grew up on a 3,500-acre family cattle ranch south of John Day, studied agriculture at Oregon State University and after graduating returned to help run the ranch. After 10 years of ranching he returned to academia, earning a master’s degree at Oregon State. This time his education didn’t point him back to Eastern Oregon beef country, but to Tillamook County to serve as an extension agent.

Six-and-a-half years later, Wallowa County Extension Agent Arleigh Isley announced his retirement and asked Williams if he wanted to apply for the job. Eager to return to Eastern Oregon, Williams — along his wife, Eileen, and their two young children — moved to Enterprise, where he began a 25-year hitch as the county’s natural resource extension agent.

“Instead of the ‘feed ‘em and weigh ‘em’ type of ag extension agent, Arleigh wanted someone to analyze the state and federal policies that impact agriculture,” Williams said.

Natural resource issues are the focus of most industries in the county, whether agriculture, timber or tourism-based. Williams found himself in the middle of a number of contentious issues over the last two-and-a-half decades. In 2008 when elk numbers spiked on the Zumwalt Prairie, pressuring grasslands grazed by cattle, Williams helped form the Zumwalt Elk Landowners Committee and served as its facilitator.

That was the same year he said he got involved with research that tracks wolf and cattle interaction. For 10 years Williams traveled the Pacific Northwest lecturing about the wolf-cattle interaction research and the impact of wolves on Oregon’s livestock community.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer