Two Dozen Reasons

December 21, 2018

On The Road Again

It’s 5 o’clock on Sunday morning, June 24, 2018. I’m pulling out of my driveway headed south to Junction, Texas.  As I drive along in the darkness of the Central Texas highways I keep asking myself, “Why do I continue to subject myself to this year after year? After all, at my age why should I spend a week in the blazing hot Texas sun working at least 18 hours every day with a bunch of teenagers I don’t even know?"

photo of all students
This is why.

I am one the directors and instructors for the Texas Section Society for Range Management’s Youth Range Workshop (YRW), and I am on my way to meet the other directors for lunch and a chance to finalize last minute details before the work begins. This will be 64th annual Youth Range Workshop where high school students between the ages of 14 and 18 come to learn about natural resource management and land stewardship, and it begins this afternoon.

After we adults get moved in to our week-long “home on the range” at the Texas Tech University Center in Junction, we have one last planning session and then take a deep breath before the workshop participants begin arriving at 1:00. By 3:00 all the students have been dropped off by their parents or sponsors, have checked in, and are in the classroom for a brief orientation before heading outdoors for several interactive "get-acquainted" ice breakers.

This year we have 24 teenagers from across the state registered for the workshop. These two dozen students will spend the week learning about rangelands and stewardship of natural resources. They will be taught by a diverse group of volunteer instructors including ranchers, educators, scientists, conservationists, university professors, young professionals, consultants, certified prescribed burning professionals, and even a couple of grizzled old veterans of range management. The directors and instructors represent a wide range of age, experience, interests, and areas of specialization, but they're all dedicated to the management of Texas rangelands and working with younger generations to help them understand and appreciate the value of our soil, water, plant, and animal resources. It takes the time, input, effort, and financial support of a small army of people and organizations working throughout the year to prepare, arrange, update, finalize, and conduct the workshop. Just like a diverse plant community is essential to healthy ecosystems, this diverse team of volunteers is critical to a successful YRW year after year.

In the earliest years of the workshop the students who attended were mostly boys from ranches in the Central Texas area. As interest grew, boys from other parts of the state began to participate. Later, the participant list included girls. Still, workshop participants came almost exclusively from rural communities and from 4-H and FFA programs. Now, any high school student from 14 to 18 years of age who is interested in learning more about natural resources, plant identification, livestock, wildlife, soil, water, and ecology is welcome to attend.

Learning By Doing

The students spend six days of intense activity in the field and classroom involved in everything from

  • plant identification,
  • studying species composition and plant community dynamics,
  • conducting forage inventories,
  • learning the grazing and browsing habits of livestock and wildlife,
  • learning habitat management principles and techniques for various species of wildlife,
  • conducting field tests to determine the benefits of vegetation on infiltration and runoff rates as well as soil erosion,
  • transpiration rates of different plant species,
  • assisting with a prescribed burn on a local ranch,
  • and how all of these things are tied together! 

Hands-on learning is the focus, whether it is collecting plants, assisting with an actual prescribed burn,  clipping and weighing vegetation, measuring soil temperature, participating in the operation of a rainfall simulator, or learning to use the latest phone app for range management.

Even the recreational activities are teaching tools where the students learn important ecological principles and resource management concepts and practices while playing games and having fun. Where else can a person play the "Grazing Game" where they learn to graze selectively like a cow while tethered to a teammate as they search the pasture for the right amount and quality of forage, avoid poisonous plants, look for supplemental protein, and wait at a water trough to get a drink of water? Or stranger yet, following a bunch of odd clues and unexpected directions that seem to make no sense and have them going randomly from place to place. Then it finally dawns on them that this is the "Carbon Cycle Game" about how the ultimate fate of carbon is determined by various activities and practices. Then to burn off a little more energy, a scavenger hunt where teams search for items that are related to natural resource management and the environment. But the most enjoyable learning exercise is swimming in pristine, spring-fed Johnson Creek and discussing the role of well-managed rangeland in maintaining the functions and natural beauty of the spring and the creek. The goal of the entire workshop is to tie these lessons together.

students playing game and swimming
Learning hard and playing hard!

More Than Science & Nature

Leadership development, teamwork, and public speaking are also emphasized during the week. Cabin leaders and team leaders are selected daily by their peers. Those chosen each day are responsible for leading their respective groups in daily assignments and activities as well as assisting other members of their cabin or team in successful completion of the day’s agenda. The cabins and teams learn to accept individual responsibility while working together as a unit to provide encouragement, support, and assistance to their peers. At the end of the week the members of each cabin and each team select the person who has shown the most leadership for their unit, and those outstanding leaders are recognized and receive awards for their good work. The overall outstanding team for the week is also recognized as a group with each member receiving individual awards for their role in the team’s success.

The Trail Boss Award for Outstanding Workshop Participant went to Christophe, seen here with Dr. Jake Landers.
The Trail Boss Award for Outstanding Workshop Participant went to Christophe, seen here with Dr. Jake Landers.

Each of the first three evenings of the workshop, students have the opportunity to participate in a public speaking activity by giving a brief talk about a natural resource-related topic. The two top speakers each night move on to compete in a competition at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area where the top six speakers are judged by an outside panel, and the winner receives an award sponsored by the Kerr Soil and Water Conservation District.  

Emma was the winner of the Public Speaking Competition.
Emma was the winner of the Public Speaking Competition.

Youth Range Workshop owes its long-standing success to the ability to change and adapt, while laying the foundation necessary to understanding sound land stewardship. That challenge is what entices the team members to strive to put on an exceptional program year after year.

Clockwise from top left: Outstanding Team Overall, Outstanding Plant Collecting Team, Outstanding Cabin Ramrods, Outstanding Team Leaders.
Clockwise from top left: Outstanding Team Overall, Outstanding Plant Collecting Team, Outstanding Cabin Ramrods, Outstanding Team Leaders.


Farewell Once More

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, June 29, 2018. The parents and sponsors of the workshop participants have retrieved their kids and are headed back to their far-flung destinations. I have just said adios to my fellow directors, and I’m heading toward home. I’m exhausted after spending a week with 24 energetic, enthusiastic, inquisitive teenagers. But as my pickup rumbles out of the gate at the Texas Tech Center at Junction, I can’t keep from smiling. I drive along reflecting on the week as I recall the names of the 24 teenagers that have just become a part of my life, and I count the Two Dozen Reasons why I did this year, and I know there will be at least Two Dozen Reasons why I will do it again next year and for many years to come.


Dan Caudle explaining grass traits to a student.
Dan doing what Dan does best: sharing wisdom and a love for all things range.

Interested in Youth Range Workshop?  Find us on Facebook at Texas Section SRM Youth Range Workshop, watch for a new website coming soon.  The 2019 application for the 65th Youth Range Workshop is open and can be found at

Click here to see more photos from the 2018 workshop.




February 23, 2020

As usual, a good narrative! If we don't pass it on, how will those young folks ever learn as much as we had to scrape out by ourselves?

February 23, 2020

I am very proud of this group of leaders who are dedicated to the training and inspiring another generation of students that I am also very proud of.

Leave A Response

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Related Articles

The Living Herbarium: Instructions for Life

Article originally published in The Leaflet (April 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate (Disclaimer: The technical aspects of this article are dramatically simplified in the interests of communicating with an audience entirely unfamiliar with molecular biology. Send me an email ( ) if you would like a deeper explanation.) We like to repeat, loudly and often, that there are over 1 million plant specimens in the Philecology Herbarium at BRIT. It’s a nice, big, round number, and it sounds cool when tour groups come through. What if I told you that as imposing as that number sounds, the real number is closer to a thousand billion (1,000,000,000,000) plants*? The goal of a herbarium is to preserve plants. The ideal specimen, in many respects, has all the essential...
Read More >

The Living Herbarium: Many Hands Make Godzilla

Article originally published in The Leaflet (May 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate There is a stereotype of the scientist as a lone genius, laboring in obscurity until their “Eureka!” moment changes the world. If Hollywood is to be believed, this Eureka moment is usually followed by the destruction of Tokyo and/or New York by a giant robot/genetic mutant/superstorm. In reality, we have a tragic lack of giant robots, and nothing that we’ve done in the herbarium has (yet) threatened a major metropolitan area. We also rely heavily on collaboration, rather than solitary toil. In fact, I would venture to say that collaboration is the fundamental characteristic of science. NOT what we do…exactly. Nowhere is this more on display than in the herbarium at BRIT. Over the past month,...
Read More >

The Sweep of Time

Article originally submitted for The Leaflet (June 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate Most of us live in the moment. Paycheck-to-paycheck, living for the weekend, summer vacation, twitter updates. Updates now are measured in seconds. America, too, is a young nation. Few places west of the Appalachians boast buildings over 150 years old, and most of us live in suburbs built in the decades following World War II. So much around us is new…even our landscapes are new, transformed by mechanized farming, car culture, and introduced species. That’s not entirely news, and it’s not entirely new, either. Look, for example, at this sheet I recently encountered while tidying up a database of digitized herbarium specimens. Click to enlarge and read labels. This was one of the last colle...
Read More >

A 54-Year Celebration

The Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas ( JBRIT ) is celebrating its 54th year of continuous publication. It all started when Lloyd H. Shinners —a member of the Southern Methodist University (SMU) faculty and a prolific botanical researcher and writer who wanted to edit his work and the work of others—founded and published the first two issues of Sida, Contributions to Botany on November 23, 1962. He named the journal for a genus ( Sida ) of yellow-flowered plants of the mallow or cotton family (Malvaceae), distributed throughout the world and especially common in Texas. Shinners served as editor and publisher until his death in 1971, after which William F. Mahler, professor of botany at SMU, inherited the journal and continued to edit and privately publish it. Barney Lips...
Read More >