BY TIM SCHOMMER
In August 1994, Calvin Bagley arrived at Colorado State University to start a new job. He was joining a small group of land management professionals who provided environmental management services to the federal government. Over the next three decades, Bagley helped to establish the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands as one of the most trusted providers of environmental services to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. He retired from his position as an associate director of CEMML at the end of June 2023.
Bagley began his academic career at Southern Utah State College, where he studied range science, focusing on botany and plant biology. He later transferred to Utah State University where he completed his bachelor’s in range science in 1984, and then his master’s in the same discipline in 1987.
After college, he was interested in a career in land management. As a child, he’d spent time on a family cattle ranch in western Utah, and jobs with the U.S. Forest Service or a county extension service were on his radar. Military lands management wasn’t something he had considered — until he came across a research ecologist position with the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Illinois, part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
After landing the job with CERL in 1988, he helped implement the organization’s Integrated Training Area Management program, part of the U.S. Army’s Sustainable Range Program. The ITAM program ensures that military training lands are managed sustainably to provide realistic conditions for combat training.
By the early 1990s, much of CERL’s ITAM work had been transferred to other organizations, one of which was Colorado State University. Bagley and several colleagues followed the work to CSU, where Dr. Robert Shaw was formally establishing CEMML (originally called the Center for Ecological Management of Military Lands) as a provider of environmental management services.
“I’m from the West and I often joke that I served my time elsewhere, I got paroled, and I came back home. Joking aside,” Bagley said, “coming to CSU was an absolutely fantastic career opportunity.”
A long career with CEMML begins
In his new position as an assistant director, Bagley continued focusing on ITAM work, emphasizing Geographic Information Systems and data management. CEMML’s portfolio was much less diversified then; 90% of its roughly $6 million in annual funding came just from ITAM projects.
In 1996, Bagley was promoted to associate director; by then, CEMML had grown to manage $7 million in federal grants and had roughly 45 employees. Over the next three decades, CEMML would expand to over 700 employees and more than $100 million in annual funding, with an extensive array of military projects across the U.S. and overseas.
“We knew there was opportunity, so I don’t think any of us (who came from CERL) were afraid that joining CEMML was a one-shot deal,” said Bagley. “We came out here with a lot of optimism and saw room for growth.”
However, a rough patch lay ahead for the Center. A few years later, CEMML’s annual funding dropped to $2 million and half of the staff had to be laid off. “It was a difficult time,” Bagley reflected, “and it took us a few years to start building ourselves back up.” The loss of funding was due to changes in federal fiscal rules, but the Department of Defense was anxious to continue utilizing CEMML services. It became clear that to survive, CEMML would need to diversify in both services provided and funding mechanisms. Bagley first worked to establish Cooperative Agreements with individual installations. Later, rule changes would route agreements through the Army Corps of Engineers District offices.
While the Center continued to support ITAM and GIS efforts, it soon expanded to provide Army and Air Force installations with expertise in forestry, wildlife management, and other natural resources specialties. By 1999, it was handling cultural resources work as well, including archaeology, anthropology, and historic preservation. Installations began to see CEMML as a reliable partner for a wide array of needs.
As CEMML’s reputation grew, so did its staffing. At first, all employees were based at CSU in Fort Collins and deployed to various locations as needed. Today, only about 90 of its more than 700 staff members are based in Fort Collins. The rest work on military installations across the nation and overseas.
An influential career
When asked about his biggest achievement, Bagley jokingly responded with one word: “Surviving.” He’s proud of the Center’s growth, certainly, but is quick to acknowledge that the success was a team effort. A few of the milestones that moved CEMML ahead were the creation of a cultural resources program, the awarding of a large Air Force GIS project, and the expansion of regulatory compliance work.
Bagley himself has been a major contributor, bringing in over $270 million in funding over the span of his career. But as he talked about his time at CEMML, it was clear that it’s not about the money for him. He sees the funding as the means to accomplish important work, provide valuable support to the military mission, and help launch careers.
“I’m proud of the people that I’ve hired,” he said. “CEMML has always provided entry-level opportunities for young professionals, and quite a few of my former employees are now federal or state employees.”
Bagley’s role with CEMML has had two main components: project manager and member of the leadership team. He admits to mixed feelings about the leadership component, noting that he has found little joy over the years in making and implementing the difficult decisions that inevitably come with helping to run a multimillion-dollar organization. Managing projects in the field is where he always felt most at home. “The relationships that our field staff are able to build with their respective installations keep the funding stream going,” said Bagley. “If the installation is not happy with them, then they’re not happy with CEMML either. And if they’re not happy, they’ll find someone else to do the job.”
When asked what he’s most looking forward to in retirement, Bagley responded without hesitation: “Not coming to work.” It’s a half truth, though. Behind his wry smile, it’s clear he has some mixed feelings about his departure. While he’s more than ready to let the stressful aspects of his work at CEMML go, the personal connections he’s made over the course of his career are something he’s not so eager to let go of.
“My people in the field are my family. In building and nurturing programs, seeing the success, seeing the products that we could deliver in support of the military mission. That’s been the most satisfying part,” he said.
Bagley and his wife Patricia don’t have any plans to pack up and move. They love calling Fort Collins home. But he is looking forward to being a different kind of busy. More time spent with grandkids and a bucket-list trip to Israel are on the itinerary.