Cal-Pac SRM Range Camp!

Beginning Father’s Day every June, the California-Pacific section of the Society for Range Management (Cal-Pac SRM) puts on a 5-day range camp for high school students (see Range Camp for registration information, and Terilyn talks about her Range Camp experience) to teach them about many aspects of natural resource management on rangelands at Elkus Ranch in Half Moon Bay.

elkus_current Elkus Infrastructure

I have been lucky enough to be included in the entire experience for several years now, with this 31st Annual Range & Natural Resources Youth Camp being my third year thus far, with many more to come I hope! Many speakers come out to volunteer their time – some for a few hours, and others for the entire time! – and teach students about the ins and outs of range management, and this year I was recruited to cover Range Ecology….. no Watersheds…… no Wildlife Ecology and Monitoring AND Watersheds….. okay just Wildlife Ecology! Yes, the planning process is always a bit hectic, even up to the last minute, but we always manage somehow, and the students get some great, immersive hands-on experience. So, with less than 24 hours to plan, I put together a talk and field exercise on Wildlife Ecology and Monitoring.

We talked about habitat requirements, patchiness, monitoring methods for birds, herps, rodents, predators, and ungulates, and the students set up rodent traps, and mounted wildlife cameras around the ranch, then used GPS receivers to record the trap and camera locations so they could retrieve them later in the week. The cameras are always fun, because we are sure to get a lot of silly photos of the kids goofing around for the cameras.

wildlife talk in the field

Getting excited about Stipa pulchra!

Stipa 2 Stipa Wildlife

During the week students learned about soils (and even dug down several feet to look at the different soil horizons and talk about how they developed), wildlife ecology and monitoring (from me, fun!), range ecology and monitoring, watersheds, forestry/forest range, restoration, geology and geomorphology, botany and plant identification, entomology, targeted grazing, GPS and orienteering, general natural resources, and more. Near the end of the week we also have a ranch work activity, where we give back to the Elkus Ranch for hosting us by helping with some ranch chores. Students get some good hands-on experience in, mending fences (does this ever NOT need to be done!?), vaccinating lambs, and trimming hooves on goats and sheep.

Each afternoon students work on putting together a plant collection and study together. Students are also assigned to groups of 4-6, each with a mentor, to act as a special interest group that wants to purchase the ranch. Each group is assigned a different name (e.g., Purisima Land Trust, Acme Development Company, San Mateo Grazer’s Association, etc.), and my group was the Purisima Land Trust. The groups incorporate information they learned over the week to give a short presentation and proposal to the City Council (of which I was lucky to act as a voting member as well!), and after all five groups have the opportunity to make their case, and council members ask clarifying questions, we discuss and vote on what group gets the bid to purchase the land. I was so proud of my group! At first I feared they weren’t going to pull together as a team because there was a bit of bickering in the beginning, and some differences in vision, but not only did they pull together, but they gave a solid presentation on par with many entry-level college students, and “won” the bid! Go team!

Every night, students end the long day by regrouping around a campfire, roasting marshmallows, playing games and telling stories. A lot of new friendships are sealed here, and the last day is a sad one for students and mentors.

I would love to post photos of these great kids, but due to permissions and privacy protection for minors, I cannot. But, here are some other photos from that week. I found a nice, secluded clearing next to a (still running, gasp!) stream to pitch my tent for the week, and at night I would sit outside and look at the stars before going to sleep.

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Soils! Redox features!

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Botany and plant identification – honestly my FAVORITE part of the whole week. I love helping students with their plant collections!

2015-06-22 16.10.08

Many of the volunteers bring their families with them – everyone learns something!

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Wildlife ecology and monitoring (we caught lots of deer mice and a rat!)

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I think the mouse and I are wearing the same expression here… gives new meaning to the description of someone as “mousy”…

One night in the pitch black…. I ran into a wall and added some eventual scars to my nose, chin, and forehead …. this was about 10 hours after a walkie talkie was thrown and hit me in the back of the head. Luckily other staff at Range Camp kept an eye on me to watch for concussion. Well, sometimes little mishaps are part of Range Camp, and I’m glad it was just me!

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Goats, of course. I will never get away from goats.

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Geology walk on the beach, forestry and watersheds in the Purisima Creek Redwood Forest.

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Well that’s about all I can share! But if you are a member of the Cal-Pac Range Camp facebook page, you can see more at Range Camp Facebook Page. I’m looking forward to more adventures next year! If you know of anyone who might want more information about Range Camp next year, check out our 2016 flier: RCFlier 2016.

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