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Youth Range Workshop Educates Youth on More Than Agriculture for Last 65 Years

By Donnie Lunsford, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

Summers are typically packed full of vacations, camps, and other activities keeping families busy. However, not all summer activities and camps are the same. Youth Range Workshop (YRW), hosted by the Texas Section Society for Range Management (TSSRM), is no exception: bringing land management to another level using the outdoors as the best classroom for the future leaders of tomorrow.

For the past 65 years, Youth Range Workshop has been held making it the longest running youth agriculture and wildlife camp in the nation. The week-long workshop focuses on land management, specifically on grazing, ecology, plant identification, wildlife, water, and much more.

“In 1955, I was the co-chairman for the very first Youth Range Workshop but then I left for the Army and graduate school and returned in 1979 and have been some part of this workshop every year since,” said Jake Landers, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension rangeland management specialist emeritus. “At the first part of the week, most of the students begin with a look of bewilderment not quite knowing what to expect, but by the end of the week many are enamored with land management or plants while others just enjoyed the education, exercise, and games.”

Days are filled with hands-on learning out in the pasture as their classroom for the most part. They learn about the land, flora, fauna, and management while being taught about leadership and public speaking, which makes the students gain skills while not realizing it.

“TSSRM was organized in 1949, and they quickly recognized the need to provide an opportunity for youth to learn about rangeland ecology and natural resource management. The first camp was held in 1955, and over the past 65 years, more than 2,000 students have completed the program, becoming future leaders in the stewardship of our Texas rangelands,” said Dandy Kothmann, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) district conservationist and 2019 TSSRM president.

The Youth Range Workshop continues to challenge students to think about the many topics in different ways whether landowners are wanting to look at running livestock, hunting, recreation, or a combination of the three. Rotational grazing systems, determining stocking rates, browse availability for wildlife species, and actual carrying capacity are some of the many topics YRW tackles.

Retired NRCS and YRM Co-Chairman Dan Caudle said, “I enjoy seeing the students’ passion bloom into a flower that opens their eyes to conserve our natural resources. Many continue to stay in contact with me as a mentor and I get to see many of them grow into adults that are well rounded and some stay in this career field.”

Not many kids get to learn about stewardship much less put these skills into action. One day of the workshop is primarily dedicated to prescribed burning. Prescribed burning, often called controlled burning, is a tool where grass is the fuel to carrying the fire which reduces brush canopy, protects land against wildfire, reinvigorates plants to make them more palatable, and many other positive outcomes. The students learn from professional with years of experience on planning a burn, fire behavior, prescription of weather, suppression equipment, and how to use a drip torch properly.

“Youth Range Workshop allows our youth, who are the lawmakers and voters of tomorrow, understand fire ecology. The number one purpose of prescribed burning is to reduce hazardous fuel load benefiting habitat for bobwhite quail and Texas horned lizard to open areas that was once too overgrown for them to utilize,” said Keith Blair, owner of Red Buffalo LLC. “We educate and hopefully every student gets a chance to carry a torch and see how a fire can be used as a tool in land stewardship keeping fire on the landscape like it has been since the beginning of time.”

According to Psychology Today, fear of speaking in public is the number one fear in America. Youth Range Workshop challenges the participants to overcome their fears by having them give individual presentations throughout the week and to build leadership roles by working as a team.

The overall take home from this workshop is to teach youth about stewardship of the land as they are the ones that must keep these lands working through proper ecological principles. Otherwise it will not be possible to feed and clothe the world.

Landers added, “If you misuse the lands, the soil ends up at the Rio Grande and there isn’t any way of getting it back. It’s very important to pass this knowledge onto the next generation.”

The NRCS staff and other instructors often do most of the preparation work on their own time and some even take vacation time to instruct these students because of their passion since many went through this program themselves years ago. These instructors continue to come back every year to ensure to impart their knowledge to the next generation, even if they don’t find a career in agriculture or natural resources.

For more information on the Youth Range workshop, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TSSRMYouthRangeWorkshop. For more information on the NRCS or to find your local service center visit www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov.

Youth Range Workshop Educates Youth on More Than Agriculture for Last 65 Years, By Donnie Lunsford, USDA-NRCS public affairs specialist, (2019, Oct)