Statement of Purpose. – In many of my presentations, I use an old photograph that shows a couple embarking on a business venture to illustrate how our society has changed over time. Given the age of the Ford flatbed truck in the picture, this photo was probably taken in the 1930s. It shows the proud owner sitting behind the steering wheel and his wife standing near the running board beside a hand-written advertisement. It is difficult to read the sign given the misspellings and misplaced punctuation; nevertheless, these proud entrepreneurs did their best to showcase their talents of building fences in southern Texas. There are many stories contained in the details of the photo, but to me it defines basic needs addressed by the Land Grant Mission. This couple was probably typical of most of their contemporaries, as they were likely hardworking people, linked to agriculture, and not well-educated. Our society has changed a great deal since this image was captured on film, at least partially due to the information gained and delivered through the Land Grant Mission, people helping people solving real life problems. My classrooms are found off-campus, scattered throughout the state and my students are far different from the couple I described earlier. Many are very well educated urbanites, who are rediscovering the value of natural resources in our state. This is an exciting group to work with, as they hunger for wildlife knowledge.
While much of my career appointments have been connected to research, I have always viewed myself foremost as an educator. I am devoted to discovering new information regarding the biology of plants and animals and then translating that information into useable forms for my clientele and the general public. I have had the opportunity to educate and interact with grade school, undergraduate, and graduate students, as well as thousands of adults and I cannot think of a more rewarding vocation, as teaching new ideas and applicable concepts most certainly has positive impacts natural resources in Texas.
Extension and Research Philosophy. –“It is easy to see that you really enjoy your job”. When an audience member made this statement following one of my public presentations, he was right. From this simple, yet powerful statement, I know I made a positive impression on that person and perhaps many others like him. I was honored with this compliment while employed by Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW; 1997‑2002), Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES; 2002‑2005), and Texas Cooperative Extension (TCE; 2005‑to present). Regardless of my affiliation, my constituents have always recognized the value of the outreach, extension and/or research products that I deliver. Although some may distinguish between extension and research, I view these components as mechanisms within a single educational system. Further, I see them as being essential to each other, as neither is viable without the other. I view research as the key to gaining new information, but simply possessing knowledge does not guarantee further advancement or success. I consider extension as an important process to disseminate knowledge, and extension becomes successful when research is utilized by (or impacts) the public. The bottom line is that I feel a responsibility to explore new ideas, discuss them among my peers, and transfer them to the citizens of Texas and beyond.
Programming Focus. – I fully understand the benefits of basic research from my own firsthand experience, but I want my work to have immediate application and influence on landowners, natural resource managers, and others. If one follows my career path, they will find a line of research geared towards solving short-and long-termed problems and my efforts to relay information through outreach efforts to the public. Within Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW), my charge was to conduct research pertinent to the management of plants and animals within the Blackland Prairie and Post Oak Savannah ecoregions and to disseminate information to stakeholders through publications, presentations, and demonstrations. I accomplished these goals by developing a collaborative research program with several universities and a private consulting group. I also served as a liaison between TPW and universities, as well as groups like the Wildlife and Fisheries Science Extension unit at Texas A&M University. Prior to my arrival at the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area (GEWMA), serious research efforts had not been done on the property in the previous 20 years. It is gratifying to know that I had a direct impact to rejuvenate research on this property and my partners and I are still publishing peer-reviewed research and outreach articles that will benefit our understanding of the flora and fauna of these ecoregions and their management.
In addition to research, I devoted a large amount of my time towards outreach activities. I organized field days for area schools, conducted classroom visits, and participated in 4-H youth events and expos. Along with a parent volunteer, I organized a 4-H club that participated in the Marsh Management Activities for Learning the Lifestyles of Wildlife (Marsh-MALLOW). As part of the learning process, our kids constructed and deployed nest boxes for wood ducks and then monitored nesting success the following year. Through these efforts they gained a much better appreciation for the complexity and value of wetland systems. I often worked with individuals and groups to explain biological concepts and wildlife management techniques and I found that Texas Master Naturalist classes and civic organizations were prime outlets for this information transfer. Many universities utilized GEWMA as an outdoor classroom and I introduced students from across the state to the Post Oak Savannah ecosystem. During these educational visits, I would lead a discussion with the students regarding the best management practices for the area and natural history of the biotic community. It is rewarding when one of the many undergraduates reintroduces themselves and relates what they learned from an interaction long ago. Similarly, it is satisfying to know that I influenced the development of several graduate and undergraduates, who are now working in the wildlife profession. The opportunity to mentor these students resulted from relationships that were established through graduate studies or the undergraduate student intern program. It has been gratifying to watch these people achieve their goals and I am extremely proud of their accomplishments.
Like my work in the Blackland Prairies and Post Oak Savannah, my TAES faculty position located at the Texas Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Uvalde, TX also had regional borders within the Edwards Plateau and South Texas Plains ecoregions. Clearly, some of my research has implications for national and worldwide problems (e.g., foreign animal disease, cattle, and feral hog interactions), but my specific charge in both of these positions was to conduct research that had meaning and could be transferred to local clientele. In TAES, I gained funding in the competitive grant process. I also cultivated relationships with landowners and organized two separate studies that were funded in a cooperative fashion and allowed access and utilization of more than 200,000 acres for research and extension activities. During this time, I was actively engaged in outreach programming, even though my appointment was 100% research. I played key roles along side my Extension partners to offer programming in Nature Tourism, Exotic Ungulate Management, and Intensive Deer Management, all of which conveyed a strong habitat stewardship message. Likewise, now that I am a Texas AgriLife Extension Service faculty member, I am still involved in various research projects because they help keep me on the cutting edge of wildlife conservation and make my outreach programs more timely and relevant.
Within Texas AgriLife Extension Service, much of my program revolves around adult and youth conservation education. I view these components as absolutely essential to the welfare of wildlife and the health of natural systems. I find that my audience is very broad, ranging from individuals whose families held property for generations to new landowners who seek a weekend refuge from life in the city. A common point for these divergent groups is the desire to learn how to manage land to enhance and sustain wildlife populations. Many traditional livestock producers now incorporate some form of wildlife enterprise into their agricultural programs and in some rural towns (e.g., Uvalde) wildlife is a major driver in the local economy. Consequently, the demand for research-based information has increased dramatically from this group. Similarly, many urbanites are seeking a reconnection with nature and these people have a high desire for wildlife knowledge.
County-based Programs. – Part of my responsibility as an Extension Wildlife Specialist is to provide support to County Extension Agents. The role of this group is absolutely essential because they serve as a conduit between researchers and the delivery of research-based information to people of Texas. A primary focus of mine has been to build relations with County Extension Agents and deliver information to them (and their constituents) that will aid sound wildlife management. Many relationships were already developed given my previous county programming, while employed by TAES. I delivered presentations on various wildlife topics which range from basic biology and habitat management to some of the most recent work published in the primary scientific literature. Additionally, I author and publish both research and extension articles that teach people how to become better wildlife stewards. I provide training to County Extension Agents to better equip them to answer the many questions they encounter from the general public. Further, I have partnered with County Extension Agents to author publications and educational posters. I also developed a workshop evaluation instrument and grading spreadsheet that has been adopted by many of the agents to obtain information on knowledge gained and plans for practice adoption by audience members.
Program Leadership. – My job description also calls for a strong conservation education effort aimed at youth. I served as the state-wide coordinator/director for the Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program (WHEP), which is a 4-H program designed to educate youth about the basics of wildlife management. Although difficult to measure, I feel this program helps develop life skills and leadership among the participants, which will make them a valuable asset to their community in the future. For many students, this program represents their first interaction with nature and wildlife management. The program is challenging and requires academic diligence from the students to study the materials and be prepared to test their knowledge in competitions. Many of our students are home-schooled and/or college-bound. Competitions are conducted at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the annual WHEP State Contest is held in different ecoregions across the state. The top team goes on to compete at the National Contest, and our teams typically perform very well at this high-level competition.
The number of competitors varies from year to year, but typically we expect about 40 youth at each event. I coordinated contests through a team who make up the WHEP Committee. At the county level, I interacted with the parents, coaches and County Extension Agents through an e-mail discussion group and personal instruction. I began this line of communication to build continuity in the program, and the feedback I have received indicates that parents and coaches are pleased. It requires more time on my end but I believe the buy-in from the adults will help me improve the contest and increase participation. My goal with this program was to introduce students to conservation and to engage them in wildlife management. As an added byproduct, the adults hear the same message. I believe that the products of the program will be realized when these young people mature and make decisions that impact our natural resources, hopefully with knowledge and interest first garnered through WHEP.
Professional Development. – Although I hold memberships in several professional societies, The Wildlife Society and particularly the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society captured my attention. Over the last 10 years, I served on or chaired various committees within the TCTWS. I was elected by my peers to serve as President for this organization in February 2006-2007. Serving as President has several meanings to me. First and foremost, it means that I have attained one personal goal of becoming a recognized leader in wildlife conservation. It also means that I have taken a bold step in my professional development, as leadership and responsibility comes with inherent risks. These risks can also be viewed as opportunities and challenges which will extend my personal and professional growth. It also brings rewards. For example, in 2003 I played a fundamental role within the TCTWS to fund and develop a conservation education workshop series for K-12 teachers. Over the course of the workshops teachers learned about wildlife, habitat management, conservation history, and methods they could use to express the same ideas in the classroom. By doing so, they could provide relevant education to enhance natural resource conservation to many more students than any single wildlife professional. The response from the teachers was fantastic and I hope they will have a similar reaction from their students, as wildlife conservation is introduced in the classroom.
In summary, throughout my professional career I have tried my best to produce sound relevant information through research efforts and deliver that information as an educator. As we move into the future greater demands will be made of our natural resources. It is my hope that my efforts will serve as a catalyst to promote the wise use of our resources and instill the sense that we must be good stewards of nature.