History of the Department of Environmental Science & Policy

In the late 1960s, the citizens of California were becoming increasingly concerned about their State’s resources. In response to this concern, the University of California, Davis, submitted a proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation to create the Division of Environmental Studies. This funding led to the formation of the Division of Environmental Studies in 1970.  On July 1, 1986, the Division became a department within the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. However, the old title of Division was retained until 1997, when the Division officially changed its name to The Department of Environmental Science and Policy (DESP).

In 1970, the Division carried two undergraduate majors, Environmental Planning and Management (ENP), and Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning (EPAP). In 1990, a new undergraduate major was created called Environmental Biology and Management (EBM) which has gradually replaced ENP. The Graduate Group of Ecology (GGE), established in1968, is also housed and administered in DESP. Today the GGE has over 120 faculty members from across campus and over 175 graduate students.

In 1972, the Division had 6 students in the ENP major. Subsequently, numbers of undergraduate majors soared to a high of 339 in 1992 (145 EBM, 29 ENP, 165 EPAP). Between 1992 and 2000 numbers of students tracked declining national trends, and have slowly recovered since then. Presently, DESP has 159 undergraduate majors.

In 1970, the department consisted of 16 faculty members. The faculty’s research was equally split between physical scientists, environmental ecologists, and social scientists. Today there are 21 Faculty members and one Cooperative Extension Specialist. The scientific disciplines are relatively similar. The department brings in over $3.5 million per year in grant funds.  The department’s top grant and contract sponsors are National Science Foundation, Caltrans, California State Water Resources Control Board, San Francisco Estuary Institute, California Department of Health Services, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, CalFed, and the State of Nevada.

UC Davis has grown to be one of the nation’s strongest institutions in environmental sciences with the highest citation rate in top tier ecology/environmental journals of any North American university.