Extension office mulls regional role

Colorado State University cooperative extension offices throughout the state could take on more of a regional role in a few months.

Currently, the extension office in Craig serves Moffat County residents only.

But extension officials are considering having the branches in Northwest Colorado serve a five-county region, instead of one county exclusively.

Extension offices provide local communities access to information from the university, including training and advice on agricultural issues.

The changes could mean improved access to information for Moffat County residents, said Moffat County Extension Office Director Elisa Shackelton.

But the changes also could mean agents spend more time away from Craig.

"It has its pros and cons," Shackelton said.

Shackelton's specialty is family and consumer sciences. The Routt County and Rio Blanco County extension offices have agents who specialize in agriculture and horticulture.

If other offices shift their focus to the entire region, Moffat County ranchers will have better access to agriculture information, including advice on how to maximize the growing season, Shackelton said.

"In a way, it is going to really broaden Moffat County," she said.

Some extension agents, however, are worried that the changes will mean too much driving time and not enough time at their home offices, Shackelton said.

Shackelton said she hopes the changes don't mean too much time away from Craig for the agents.

Officials will meet in Steam--boat Springs this month to discuss the possible changes, Shackelton said. The changes could take effect in January.

The university is looking at changing the role of the extension offices because of budget cuts, said Nathan Moreng, extension office regional director.

In 2003, the extension program saw state funding cut by 20 percent, Moreng said. Some agents lost their jobs because of those cuts.

By having agents cover more ground, the progam can provide services to more people, Moreng said.

The other option would be to hire more staff, but Moreng doesn't think the program could afford more employees.

"We don't see anything on the horizon that we think will give us more resources," Moreng said.

Extension offices like the one in Craig are funded by the university and county governments.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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