At five-day camps that combine hands-on habitat management education and plain old fun, the volunteers learn as much as the students.
By D. Collin Hudson
I grew up in a North Texas home where quail hunting was a big part of family life. My childhood winters were spent trailing fine bird dogs every weekend with my brother, father and grandfather. Bobwhite numbers began a noticeable decline at my family’s ranch a few years ago in spite of the fact that it is located far away from urban sprawl. My concern over this disturbing trend is what prompted me to become interested in quail habitat management. While attending a Quail Appreciation Day seminar, I met esteemed upland game bird expert, Dr. Dale Rollins. He told me there was no more intensive crash course in quail management than the Bobwhite Brigades. Now in my 30s with no children of my own, I also wanted to find a way to become involved with the passing of the torch to the next generation. This is exactly what Texas Brigades Wildlife Leadership camps are all about. I volunteered one week last July as a “covey leader” at the 7th Battalion of the Bobwhite Brigade at the 74 Ranch in South Texas, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Rollins founded the Texas Brigades Youth Wildlife Leadership camps 13 years ago, in partnership with Quail Unlimited, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In addition to the Bobwhite Brigade, students can opt for the Buckskin Brigade (deer), Feathered Forces (turkey), and Bass Brigade, which held its first camp in 2004 in Bastrop.
“Parents should send their kids to the Brigades to fast-forward their youth’s leadership abilities, like communication and teamwork skills, and build confidence. Cadets (boys and girls) are introduced to a network of wildlife professionals and allowed to experience what a career in wildlife management entails. The Brigades instill into youths an appreciation for the outdoors and the user’s role and responsibilities in the future of conservation. The camps also motivate youths that have potential but have yet to be challenged to develop that potential,” says Rollins.
The cadets’ days are long, but there’s also ample time for simple enjoyment of the outdoors. In the predawn hours, cadets march and shout military-style cadences that teach land management principles. Educational games and team-building exercises related to land management ethics and politics make up a large part of the daily schedule. They learn about the biology of the selected species, plant identification and other critical aspects of habitat management through hands-on experiences. In addition, cadets can compete for college scholarships.
The motto of Texas Brigades is, “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.” The hands-on involvement is what leaves such a lasting impression on the youngsters, as well as the adults that participate in the camps. Not only was I able to vastly enhance my own knowledge of quail habitat management practices at the Brigades, but also I took away a very good feeling that I was getting positively involved in the lives of the teens.
Cost for the five-day camps is $300 for each 13- to 17-year-old cadet. Deadline for application for both cadets and adult volunteers is April 1. To participate, contact Texas Brigades Executive Director Helen Holdsworth at www.texasbrigades.org or by phone at (800) TEX-WILD.