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TSSRM members visit Southern High Plains for Annual Meeting

By Quenna Terry, USDA-NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

Anyone in the business of taking care of the land knows stewardship is a goal worth reaching.  At the 2018 Texas Section Society for Range Management (TSSRM) meeting in Lubbock, members and students from across the state joined together for a three-day conference to discuss the importance of land stewardship and conservation.

This year’s theme for the meeting was Land Stewardship: Rangelands Providing for Society. TSSRM is part of the national Society for Range Management (SRM), a conservation organization and professional scientific society, whose members have a common interest in study, management and rational use of rangelands and related ecosystems.

More than 260 state and federal agency personnel, students, and participants from the agriculture industry came to the meeting to be a part of this conversation, and to work together for the benefit of the 59 percent of the state’s rangeland acres.

The convention began with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employees, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, partners and students attending a training program hosted by the Noble Foundation at the National Ranching and Heritage Center. 

Brook Gaskamp, education associate for the Noble Foundation conducted an informal science training to equip conservationists to be more aware of what producers are saying based on their own prior knowledge. 

“The basis of this training is to get to the foundation of how people learn and to understand it.  You put together programs you can reflect back on and say, I know I need to do this because I know that is how they learn,” Gaskamp said.  “Trainings like this help the employee ask the right questions.  A lot of this is knowing how to access what they already know and then build on their knowledge.”

To test the participants prior knowledge, Gaskamp used a science experiment to prove the lesson by asking participants if they knew if ice cubes would melt faster in fresh water or salt water.  “We use questioning techniques like this to access that information,” she said.  “This experiment is used because it helps a participant think more about what they already know.”

Texas Tech graduate student Courtney Jasik was one of the participants in the training.  She said she wanted to attend the session because she has been involved in youth trainings during the summer months.  “Through Texas Brigades and the camps, we are teaching the younger generation about conservation and wildlife education on the importance of how to be a good steward of the land, and how to take care of our natural resources,” Jasik said.  “It is important to take the students out on the land to show them different soil types and to collect plants, so opportunities like this help me to be more prepared to teach youth.”

Matt Coffman, NRCS range management specialist for the Grazing Lands Coalition (GLC) and co-chair of the annual meeting said his hope is for the participants to make contacts and use the information they learn to further themselves as professionals.

Participants listened to qualified experts in the industry who presented on topics such as land stewardship, ecological significance of fire on the Texas landscape, southern climate impacts, and data-driven grazing decisions. 

Mark Shafer, Ph.D., associate state climatologist from The University of Oklahoma presented, “What does the climate hold for agriculture and what does it mean?”  The presentation data was collected from the Texas South Plains region to showcase climate trends.  Shafer discussed how rising temperatures are leading to an increased demand for water and energy.  He said in parts of the region, this will constrain development, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water among communities, agriculture, energy production and ecological needs.  He also explained changes to crop growth cycles due to warming winters, and alterations in the timing and magnitude of rainfall events have already been observed; as these trends continue, they will require new agriculture and livestock management practices to ultimately sustain agriculture.

Morgan Russell-Treadwell, Ph.D., with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service had an equally engaging presentation focused on how fire has a unique signature on the landscape. Treadwell said, “We are barely scratching the surface of knowing the effects of fire.”  She and her graduate students are currently studying the below ground effects of fire and the enormous native perennial grass response.  She explained this research has not been explored before because she said we have always been consumed with what we see above the ground that we have had no idea of the response for what’s below the ground.  Morgan-Treadwell and her team of students will conduct future fire and soil health research in Sonora.

Charles Kneuper, NRCS state rangeland specialist said meetings like this are important for NRCS employees to attend. “We have to encourage employees to get involved,” he said.  “The sessions are a way for employees to be engaged and with hands-on learning opportunities to see and understand what their job is as a conservationist. The networking also helps them understand there is more than one way to reach the same intended goal.”

Michael Willson, NRCS resource team leader in Snyder added, “We have been thrilled with the number of ag producers, conservationists, professors, and students who are in attendance here in Lubbock.  There is great value in the variety of backgrounds and experience found throughout this organization, giving each member access to this powerful network of conservation professionals.  We hope to continue growing the Texas Section, further strengthening our role in conservation issues.”

Besides the informative sessions, participants attended a tradeshow with upwards of 15 vendors.  USDA-NRCS exhibited and provided handouts for increased rangeland production and best management practices.  NRCS representatives were on hand to answer questions about technical assistance and current farm bill programs beneficial to rangeland operators and managers.  Graduate students from participating universities presented their posters in the tradeshow area where members and other attendees could visit with them about their research.

Conservation winners were recognized at a luncheon and banquet in categories for outstanding rangeland stewardship and management, poster contest, scholarships, publication awards, grass roots awards and more.

The Killam Duvall County Ranch managed by the Kitner family was presented the Outstanding Rangeland Stewardship award, which was provided in partnership with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and presented by Stephen Diebel, chairman of GLC. 

The Hollingsworth Ranch in Spicewood, managed by the Sultemeier and the Hollingsworth families were honored with the Outstanding Rangeland Management award. 

Organizers of this year’s successful event were Michael Willson, NRCS resource team leader, Rob Cook,  pasture and range consultant and planned consultation manager for the Noble Foundation, Matt Coffman, NRCS rangeland management specialist and GLC representative, Jeff Goodwin, pasture and range consultant in industry relations and stewardship for the Noble Foundation and TSSRM President Brian Hays, associate director for the Texas Water Resources Institute. 

TSSRM members visit Southern High Plains for Annual Meeting, Quenna Terry, USDA-NRCS public affairs specialist (2018, November)