Professor, Natural Resources and the Environment
My research focuses on ecosystem interactions that influence the management of freshwater fish populations in lakes and rivers. These efforts involve large-scale and small-scale experimental manipulations, as well as taking advantage of natural experiments that help identify key ecosystem processes.
In recent years, I have been leading the Environment & Sustainability major at Cornell. As director of this cross-college major, I promote engagement by faculty in departments throughout the university working who teach about environment and sustainability issues. The 400 students in our major defy disciplinary boundaries, come from diverse backgrounds, and are passionate.
I twice moved from the Upper Midwest to Cornell. In 1971, I came to Cornell as an undergraduate after leaving my family and hometown of Gary, Indiana. Moving from the urban Rust Belt to bucolic rural New York was transformative. I returned as a faculty member 27 years later, this time bringing my family from Green Bay, Wisconsin where I lived, worked and ate cheese for 17 years. I constantly think about how organisms and ecosystems are changing, driven by a fascination with plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, rocks, weather and forces that shape the world. That includes people, which is why I pay attention to how people affect living things, ecosystems and our physical environment. If I had to sum up my research and personal experiences, I’d say that I’m impressed at how life thrives in a world dominated by human activity.
My time as an undergraduate at Cornell set me on a career path as an ecologist. My research efforts ended up focusing on freshwater fish in lakes and rivers, though I have also worked with other dominant – and news-making – animals such as zebra mussels. My research typically occurs in the Adirondack region of New York or other locations that are cold for a large part of the year. Serendipity has also led me to focus on thiamine (vitamin B1) as a regulator of ecological interactions ranging from microbes to the large-scale mortality of fish and other animals.
I also maintain an ongoing interest in how science influences and is influenced by cultural practices, historical trends and public policy. This started in my liberal arts studies as an undergrad, then continued with academic studies at MIT before I entered the messy real world with a stint in coastal land use planning (California Coastal Commission). That was followed by decades leading extension and outreach efforts with the Wisconsin Sea Grant Program and Cornell before returning to the classroom as an instructor, then now leading an undergraduate major.
NTRES 1101: Understanding Environment and Sustainability
Offered every fall semester:
This course examines two fundamental questions about biological, chemical and physical processes that influence the biosphere. First, how do humans obtain knowledge about these environmental processes? Second, how can we assess human influences upon these environmental processes? A key conceptual framework for the course is that environmental science provides tools for predicting future states of the earth’s environment. Case studies, readings, discussions, writing assignments, and group exercises provide a foundation for understanding predictions about how the biosphere is influenced by human activities.
NTRES 4300: Environmental Policy Processes (co-taught with Bruce Lauber)
Offered every fall semester:
This course deals with the creation, implementation, and evaluation of environmental policy, at the federal level. Emphasis is on the policy process and the roles within that process played by the policy network of (1) congressional staffs and committees, (2) executive departments and agencies, and (3) advocacy organizations, interest groups, and lobbyists.
The course begins with an introduction to the study of public policy, focusing on policy process and actors, and then examines in detail several case studies. Past case studies include: risk assessment policy with a specific focus on mercury in fish; marine fisheries policy; endangered species policy; and invasive species policy. Students complete a guided (mostly independent) research project, and develop a paper on that topic. Topics are selected by students, but must have significant national environmental importance, and be approved by the instructor. Recent student topics have focused on issues related to climate change, energy, agriculture, food and nutrition, education, transportation, and natural resources, among others.
Adirondack Fishery Research Program (AFRP)
AFRP research efforts often involve large-scale experimental manipulations and also make use of natural experiments — such as disturbances or variable climate conditions — that can help identify key ecosystem processes relevant to aquatic resource management. Since Kraft's arrival at Cornell in 1998 we have initiated and sustained several long-term projects evaluating key aquatic resource management issues, including: climate change impacts on coldwater fish and aquatic ecosystems, the impacts of dominant invasive species on fish communities and ecosystems, factors influencing large-scale fish mortality from thiamine deficiency, and the influence of forested landscapes on ecosystem processes in lakes and rivers.
Brook trout conservation and management in a changing climate
The environmental and ecological importance of thiamine and thiamine deficiency in aquatic food webs
Fish community and population response to removal of naturalized smallmouth bass in an oligotrophic Adirondack lake
Terrestrial influences on aquatic ecosystems: watershed liming as a restoration practice
Effects of old-growth riparian forests on Adirondack stream systems
Implementing a topographic index approach to identify locations of groundwater input along Adirondack lake shorelines
Wood dynamics along the terrestrial-aquatic boundary in northeastern forests: the 1998 ice storm
203 Fernow Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
clifford.kraft [at] cornell.edu
Clifford in the news
- Natural Resources and the Environment