Franke Sustainability Fellow Studies Land Use in Bolivia

Over the course of a week in mid-January, Jacob Rex, a senior majoring in resource conservation, traveled over 1,000 miles through Bolivia to move a tractor – and to interview people about climate change, agriculture and land use. It’s just one notable experience he’s had as part of his thesis project for his climate change studies minor Honors capstone class, and the adventure is just getting started. Rex will live and study in Bolivia from January to April 2019 conducting research for the project, entitled ‘Through the Eyes of Locals: A Changing Climate in Bolivia.”

Jacob RexTropical forests in Bolivia are being transformed into agricultural land – mostly for cereal grains or livestock production, Rex said. Rex will examine the way socio-economic factors influence deforestation and agricultural land use change by interviewing local agricultural producers and by shadowing a third-generation Bolivian entrepreneur and rancher for four months.

Rex hopes to explore the social, economic and environmental ramifications associated with land use changes and to better understand how local impacts fit into a global context.

“This is a story of the Bolivian peoples central to the struggle for sustainability within a transforming climate, told through the eyes of those directly witnessing and facilitating said changes,” Rex wrote in his project proposal.

Rex was awarded a Franke Sustainability Fellowship to help fund his research. The Franke Sustainability Fellowship Program supports undergraduate students in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation studying or practicing sustainability projects internationally or domestically for three months or longer. Fellows are a prestigious cohort of top students participating in off-campus exchanges or education programs or completing a field project or research.

“The Franke Sustainability Fellowship has been hugely influential in this project; without it I don’t believe I would have had the opportunity to travel here this semester,” Rex said. “I am very grateful for the opportunity that the Fellowship has afforded me, because the dichotomies of climate change are fascinating, and the Fellowship has allowed me to see that from a first-hand perspective.”

From Helena, Montana, Rex has previously traveled to Costa Rica and Panama, where he volunteered with the Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research. He has also studied abroad in Scotland.

Rex has also worked as a research assistant in several FCFC labs, including Philip Higuera’s Paleoclimatology lab and for Ashely Ballantyne, assisting in preparation and enumeration of charcoal samples collected from sites throughout the Canadian Arctic.

After graduation, Rex plans to pursue a master’s degree and eventually would like to work in a position that lets him combine science, writing and photography skills. He said the project in Bolivia serves as a rewarding conclusion to his undergraduate studies and is a chance to implement all of the practical knowledge he has learned.

He says he hopes this project and his travels open him up to new perspectives. “I see this as one of many humbling learning experiences, allowing me to better understand my footing within the world and the divides that exist between our countries and others,” Rex said. “Seeing actions in person that are directly in line with the climate conversation certainly affords a greater understanding to the vast differences in needs, affluence and justification surrounding the myriad of factors playing into any sort of meaningful climate action.”

To learn more about the Franke Sustainability Fellowships and how to apply, visit