Peter Berck, one of the world’s foremost forestry economists and a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, or ARE, died of cancer Aug. 10 at age 68.
Berck earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UC Berkeley and a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He returned to campus as an assistant professor in 1976, where he remained for the duration of his career. Berck never retired, continuing to advise students and conduct research even as his illness worsened, according to his wife, Cyndi Berck.
“Peter was probably the most beloved professor in any field,” Cyndi Berck said. “He had an open door policy in his office — he always had tea and coffee and loved hearing his students’ life stories.”
Cyndi Berck said her husband had a love of the outdoors that began after he joined the Boy Scouts of America while growing up in New York. He became involved in leadership positions with the Boy Scouts as a district chair and assistant scoutmaster of Berkeley Troop 6 when his youngest son joined the organization.
“He wanted to expand ethnic diversity in the sense that scouting is for everyone,” Cyndi Berck said. “He was supportive of progress in the last several years of opening the scouts up regardless of sexual orientation or gender and he was in a position to be part of that process.”
Peter Berck’s love for the outdoors translated into his academic pursuits — he wrote more than 100 research papers on a variety of topics, including forestry economics, management of natural resources and agricultural adaptation to climate change, according to Cyndi Berck.
Peter Berck recently developed a computer model to simulate impacts of environmental regulation on the California economy, which is now widely used by the California government to inform the state’s fiscal policy, according to the ARE website. Cyndi Berck said her husband used this model to analyze the impacts of California greenhouse gas regulation, which determined that moving toward renewable energy would reduce the price of energy in California.
Though a prominent researcher, Peter Berck was also well-known for his dedication to his students, according to ARE professor Jeffrey Perloff. Upon hearing of Peter Berck’s illness, some of his former graduate students created a Facebook page dedicated to him that received more than 900 comments, according to Perloff. He added that “not many people can generate that kind of love.”
ARE professor Sofia Villas-Boas said some people on the Facebook page created the term “BERCKonomics” — the capitalized letters stand for bonding over environment, resources, coffee and kindness — to summarize Peter Berck’s legacy. Villas-Boas said that although there were many qualities repeated in the comments to describe Peter Berck, the quality most often noted was that “he brought us all together.”
“We had a connecting open door between our offices and we became really good friends,” Villas-Boas said. “Later we realized that I was like his sister and he was my brother. It was really a blessing.”
Peter Berck is survived by his wife, three children — David, Michelle and Joseph — his brother, Alan, and four grandchildren.