The University of Wisconsin - Platteville reclamation program major officially started in the fall semester, 1980. It was an outgrowth of the interdisciplinary Environmental Studies minor that started in 1970 with the help of Dr. Roger Higgs who chaired a committee of interested faculty. That program was administratively housed in Biology.
Dr. Harold Willis, Chairman of Biology, lobbied for a Reclamation major to replace the Environmental Studies minor. A program was developed based on a nationwide questionnaire and input from about 100 students.The student input was chaired and promoted by the Soil Conservation-Agronomy Club.
Dr. Willis initially directed the major prior to leaving academia. Dr. Ed Nuhfer, Geology, directed the major from fall 1981 until 1991. During Dr. Nuhfer's tenure, the Reclamation Club formed a student chapter of the American Society of Mining and Reclamation (ASMR) at the National ASMR meeting in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1984. During that time period several Reclamation students gave student papers at professional meetings. Dr. Kenneth Kilian, Soils, was the acting director for one year in the late 1980's while Dr. Nuhfer was on a sabbatical.
In 1991, Dr. Roger Higgs, Soils and Crops, was recruited by the UW-Platteville administration to direct the major. There were 25 majors at that time. It was apparent to the Reclamation Council, an interdisciplinary faculty council that guides the program, that additional support was needed. An ex officio student representative was added to the Reclamation Council in 1991. Students suggested several ideas, which were adopted into the curriculum. The student involvement and interest in the evolution of the reclamation major cannot be underestimated. By 1996-97 there were 75 majors in Reclamation.
Several curricular changes had occurred between 1991 and 1997 including the addition of a required GIS course, reclamation revegetation, a chemistry option, more alternative courses, and a spring reclamation demonstration field trip. Incredibly, UW-P had not assigned any faculty teaching time to the program. All teaching, advising and administering had been performed on an overload basis by faculty.
Based on years of large student numbers and good job placement in reclamation-related careers, the administration approved the hiring of a reclamationist to teach the courses and administer the program. Beginning July 1, 1999, Dr. Tom Hunt, with twenty years of reclamation experience, began as Reclamation Director. Dr. Hunt was the first true reclamationist to head the program.
In 1999, the Reclamation program received a room to call its own. Russell 127 is the first designated Reclamation/Crops Laboratory and 129A is the Land Mapping Laboratory, dedicated in part to Reclamation.
In order to reflect changes in the field of applied environmental science and student interests, the Reclamation Program changed its name to Reclamation, Environment and Conservation in 2002 (REC for short; with the R standing for both Reclamation and Restoration). This name changed reflected that the program was more than just reclamation. Currently, many students go on to do ecological restoration, environmental management, and soil conservation. A few students still go on to do traditional reclamation jobs, such as reclaiming drastically disturbed land after coal mining.
In the Fall of 2005 the Reclamation program celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Many REC alumni returned to the university to celebrate and reminisce.
In 2013, Dr. Yari Johnson became Director of the Reclamation, Environment and Conservation program.