If you’ve read my work in this space for any length of time, you know quite well that I’m a champion for Texas hunting and fishing pursuits, the conservation of said outdoor opportunities and, most importantly, the focus of passing those traditions on to youths.
Simply put, the fate of Texas’ wildlife, fisheries and other natural resources is in our hands.
Thankfully there is a program aimed at helping us pass on the stewardship role to future generations that serves as a blueprint for success.
Dr. Dale Rollins, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist, 20 years ago developed the idea for what today has become known as the Texas Brigades. From the first Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade seed that was planted that day in West Texas has sprouted an abundance of fantastic learning opportunities with wildlife at the epicenter.
The Texas Brigades are designed with one thing in mind: Empowering youths with knowledge so that when the time comes they will be the ambassadors for conservation of natural resources on multiple levels. The camps are geared toward youths age 13 to 17 and who have an interest in biology, wildlife, fisheries, conservation or the outdoors. The best part is that even if these topics don’t pique their interest, it’s a good bet that they will after 4½ days of hands-on learning and introduction to everything from habitat management and population dynamics to leadership and public speaking skills.
There also is a Ranch Brigade aimed at livestock production and land stewardship practices, providing youth empowerment as in other Brigade offerings.
The camps are a partnership of the AgriLife Extension, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, conservation groups, soil and water conservation districts and private businesses and individuals.
The costs associated with the camps are $400 for youths, which covers their on-site expenses. However, there are numerous agencies and organizations that have aided with scholarships in the past and the Brigades will help track down sponsors for those who apply and are accepted.
Camp dates this year are:
- Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade: June 14-18, Centennial Lodge, Coleman
- South Texas Buckskin Brigade: June 15-19, Southern Star Ranch, Uvalde
- South Texas Bobwhite Brigade: June 27-July 1, Buck Horn Creek Ranch, Pleasanton
- Bass Brigade: July 8-12, Warren Ranch, Santa Anna
- North Texas Buckskin Brigade: July 13-17, El Escondrijo, San Angelo
- Ranch Brigade: July 15-19, Warren Ranch, Santa Anna
- Waterfowl Brigade: July 20-24, Big Woods on the Trinity, Tennessee Colony
I had the opportunity to attend a Bobwhite Brigade camp at Krooked River Ranch in Shackelford County in high school, and it truly was an eye-opening experience.
The main reason the camps have been wildly successful are the no-nonsense approach. There’s no idle time, cadets are treated like adults and everyone must work together to achieve common goals. The approach, coupled with the curriculum, makes the time spent a life-changing event. It also explains why the program has been so successful and has helped recruit and enlighten the next generation in the cause of wildlife management and conservation issues.
The Brigade schedule is regimented for a reason. Cadets spend time in a classroom setting each day, listening to wildlife experts talk about all things quail, deer, bass, waterfowl and even beef. Then there is time spent in the field and hands-on activities that rival anything a college wildlife department could dream up. Cadets do everything from locating radio-collared quail and conducting range analysis to performing their own taxidermy and collecting bugs to learn about entomology in the Bobwhite Brigade camps.
Cadet applications must be postmarked by March 15 and you can apply online or download the forms and mail them.
The Texas Brigades Youth Leadership Development Program also is seeking applicants for the Wildlife Intensive Leadership Development program. The W.I.L.D. program is an advanced leadership development and deployment program for the highest achieving former Texas Brigades cadets. It seeks to help improve their leadership skills, expose them to agricultural and natural resource policy and policymakers, foster development of professional skills and improve the success of the Brigades program through the creation of an advisory group composed of W.I.L.D. participants.
Brigades graduates ages 16-23 and in good standing are eligible to apply, and applications are accepted through Feb. 15.