Combining a passion for resource economics and climbing (and throw research into the mix) has taken Professor Ross Cullen on an amazing journey that has involved scaling the academic ladder at Lincoln University and scaling mountains around the world. At the end of June, Ross retired his academic ‘boots’ as Professor of Resource Economics at Lincoln University after 21 years on the staff.
Ross’ commitment to Lincoln first started as a student in 1968, enrolling in the Diploma of Agriculture and Valuation and Farm Management courses. “In those times we were expected to wear walk socks and shorts. One student tried wearing jandals on campus but Malcolm Burns (the principal of Lincoln at the time) noticed and was reported to be unhappy about such casual attire,” recalls Ross.
After spending a few years on the family farm in Otago, Ross decided farming wasn’t for him and went on to complete an honours degree in economics and a PhD on the pharmaceutical industry at the University of Otago. He continued on as a lecturer at Otago University until 1991.
In 1991 Ross commenced work at Lincoln University. He chose to return because he enjoyed his time at Lincoln in the late 1960’s and thought Lincoln University was the perfect place to balance his love for the outdoors with his research and teaching career.
Research became a big part of Ross’ time at Lincoln University. Ross’ work in resource, environmental and ecological economics included economic evaluation of biodiversity projects, ecosystem services, water management, tourism and infrastructure, fisheries management, non-market valuation, and mining. “I tried never saying ‘no’ to a research invitation, particularly around multi-disciplinary research. Modern research is teamwork with the major research grants going to teams.”
One of the most successful collaborations is the highly regarded research project ‘Public Perceptions of New Zealand’s Environment’ with Professor Ken Hughey and Associate Professor Geoff Kerr, also from Lincoln University.
The research studies New Zealanders’ perceptions of air quality, native plants and animals, native forest and bush, soils, beaches and coastal waters, marine fisheries, marine reserves, freshwaters, national parks, wetlands, urban environments, and the natural environment and compared to other developed nations. The project commenced in 2000 and six biennial surveys have been completed to date.
The most recent report, released in 2011, is a thoroughly comprehensive document and a valuable item in the tool kit of everyone involved in environmental planning, management and development in New Zealand or any related activity. The full report includes recommendations to planners and policy makers and is frequently referred to by Government policy makers.
Ross is also well known in alpine circles. He has climbed on all seven continents. As a member of the 1985 New Zealand Alpine Club Everest Expedition he realised there was an opportunity to mix research with his outdoor passion. Ross wrote research papers on what he calls the knapsack problem and the key factors determining the likelihood of success on an Everest climb. He also authored a paper on expedition garbage following the 1985 Everest expedition and proposed the use of environmental bonds to deal with that problem.
As well authoring and co-authoring over 100 research publications, and 120 conference papers, Ross found to time author a guidebook on climbs in the Lake Ohau region.
Ross’ climbing days are thankfully not over. Waiting for him in the very near future are the mountains and fjords of Norway where Ross will be joining his wife who currently resides in Oslo.