Learning What it Takes to be a Cadet

at Texas Brigades

Texas Brigades is a non-profit organization that is recognized for its summer camps that provide hands-on education and leadership experiences to the next generation of conservation stewards. Brigade camps span various topics such as white-tail deer, to waterfowl, to the Texas coast, to highlight the diversity of natural resources in Texas. Brigade camps connect participants to conservation and stewardship by capturing the variable interests among its young participants. Texas Brigades was a 2020 Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler where the TxN team worked directly with Brigades to push various initiatives forward. We were able to work together to begin short and long-term impact measurement, increase media awareness, and reach new communities of campers during our partnership.

At a Texas Brigades camp, there are various levels of participants, from campers (or cadets) to leadership positions such as assistant leaders. Assistant leaders are previous-year cadets who have been selected to lead a team of peers/cadets at the next battalion of camp (the following summer). Assistant leaders offer advice, motivate, and help their team of cadets during and after camp. To become an assistant leader, cadet graduates are encouraged to use the skills and knowledge they gained at camp to spread the word about conservation. A Book of Accomplishments, or BOA, is a record of all the post-camp events and activities a Texas Brigades cadet has completed in the name of conservation advocacy. There are many categories and activities graduates can complete, showcasing the different avenues one can take to share conservation knowledge and values with others. One opportunity outlined for aspiring assistant leaders is an interview with like-minded organizations. We had the pleasure of chatting with Brynna Malley, a cadet from the Waterfowl Brigade, about her driving passion for land stewardship and wetland conservation in Texas.

Q: Tell me about yourself.

A: My name is Brynna Malley and I’m seventeen years old. My brother and I have been homeschooled by my mom since kindergarten. I recently started taking my dual credit classes through our local community college this year.

I live on a 13-acre ranch in Boerne with my mom and brother. We have two horses at home with our dogs and chickens. I’ve been riding horses for over twelve years, and I’m training with my horse right now to hopefully go to the Junior Olympics next fall, which is big and really exciting.

It was my first time at summer camp this year at Texas Brigades Waterfowl camp. I hadn’t heard about them until November of last year, so I’m really excited to be working with them. It’s opened a lot of opportunities for jobs in the future in conservation, which is really great.

Q: How has Texas Brigades impacted you not only as a leader, but also as a conservation steward?

A: It’s really shown me that if there’s no risk, there’s no reward. Before I went to Brigade camp, I knew that I wanted a job in conservation. I’m thinking about becoming a Texas Game Warden, so I decided to go back next year and fulfill my BOA. I learned that putting myself out there not only helps me, but also helps bring awareness of conservation to all people. I’ve seen a lot of kids come to see me speak about Texas Brigades and they get that same spark in their eyes as I do when they get talking about conservation.

It has taught me that leadership is not just about you, it’s a partnership. A lot of cadets, who are also friends and assistant leaders of mine from camp, still help me today with everything. Texas Brigades has taught me that it takes a village to build a really great community amongst people.

Q: How do you feel that you are able to impact people due to your experiences at Texas Brigades?

A: The impact is most clear to me when I am talking about camp to other kids about how I have put myself out there. It’s really helped me with not only my leadership skills, but also my knowledge in conservation. I know my projects have brought forward a lot of people who have been interested in them and like to tell their stories, which is so awesome. It’s helped me learn a lot about conservation, preservation of land, and all sorts of other resources. Conservation is not just about saving the land for the people, but it’s about saving the planet and animals and all the resources we have.

Q: Texans have a historical connection to the land. How has this camp deepened your connection to the land?

A: Prior to going to camp, I had a passion for law enforcement. One of my backup plans was to even to be a SWAT officer. But when I went to camp, all the instructors were passionately teaching campers about the land, how it provides for us, and how it gives back when we treat it right. You don’t realize how much work goes into the fields you drive by every day. You don’t realize how hard we must work to help our land give to us. It really helped my connection with the land on a personal level because I realized just how much our land means to us, and how much we can effect it.

For example, a lot of people see a grassy field and take it for granted. Now when I look out on a grassy field, I see the hours and hours of hard work producers put into managing that land and managing the soil and water. It really gives you a whole new perspective of the nature you see when you go out every day.

Q: What was the most impactful moment from camp?

A: The most impactful moments from camp came from talking to the instructors. They all took the time and dedication to answer all of my questions and give me a lot of advice. It’s kind of scary when going to college and you don’t know what field you want to study. A lot of the instructors were helpful in telling me how important it is to find my passion in life and ways to help me find those passions. Going to camp, I realized that my passion is conservation of the land and teaching people how to connect to it and the animals. The people at camp made me realize who I wanted to be.

Wetland Conservation

Q: What initially interested you in wetland conservation?

A: I’m a duck hunter. Before I went to camp, I took the beauty and complexity of the sport for granted. It was a misconception to see ducks and assume that they’re always around. At camp, we learned about wetlands and why 50 percent of them are degraded, why we need to help these environments, and why so much of the wetland environment needs human support. It is rare to find a wetland environment that can sustain itself. That made a really big impact on me. I not only want this habitat to stay on earth, but I want it to be there for the next generation of hunters and children who are interested in conservation.

Q: What types of animals and plants rely on these wetlands?

A: Hydrophytic plants, meaning that some vegetation is completely submerged in water, some is rooted in the water but rises above the water, and some live right along the banks of the water, are the main types of vegetation. Those types of vegetation are important as they aerate the water, keep the water healthy, and give the water the necessary level of oxygen for invertebrates to use. There are microorganisms that live in the water, and alligators, snakes, and fish. There are so many species of bugs, especially mosquitos. And of course, waterfowl. Additionally, deer rely on wetland habitats a lot. There are so many other animals that rely on wetland habitats, such as owls and coyotes. The list just goes on and on for the homes it creates for animals.

Q: What makes these wetlands important to Texas?

A: Wetlands serve as hurricane buffers. Winnie, Texas is home to a lot of large coastal wetlands. When the hurricane happened earlier this year it helped the community that the water was close to the ocean. Within about two days, the water had drained out because the wetland took the water away from Winnie and dumped it back into the ocean.

The freshwater and deep-water wetlands that exist further inland provide a water source for plants and animals, not just humans. Sometimes we don’t take into consideration that there are other animals that need a water source. It also serves as a habitat for fish to procreate and to help our population levels. Also, they encourage so much biodiversity. They’re a good thing to have. It’s a benefit to our environment and to our communities.

Q: Waterfowls are hunted in these wetlands. Why is hunting important for us to continue to do in Texas?

A: Waterfowl hunting helps with population and disease control. Also, we’re able to provide food on the table. For some, it’s historical for them to go hunting as it has been around for so many years.

Also, hunting is a great community to bring people together. As a child who grew up hunting, I’m so grateful for what it gave me. Some of my fondest memories are from hunting when I was a little kid. A lot of these wetlands provide the waterfowl we’re looking to hunt. When you’re out in a wetland hunting, you’re given the opportunity to observe the ecosystem and what’s happening. You’re also able to see the habits of the waterfowl, and it’s a helpful way to see what has changed and is currently changing. Many hunters contribute a lot to surveys from Texas Parks and Wildlife to keep track of these birds, maintain large datasets for the state to work from.

Q: What are some best practices that a private landowner could adopt if they had wetlands to preserve or even enhance them?

A: A lot of people don’t realize that wetland management and wetland conservation are a bit easier than it seems. You can hire organizations that will survey your property and help you develop a management plan, such as Ducks Unlimited. If you want to do it yourself, the biggest thing is a water management and enhancement plan. If you don’t have water, you don’t have a wetland. For example, a watershed enhancement plan involves collecting runoff and rerouting the water back to the wetland. It helps raise some landowners’ water levels from six inches to over a foot. Then, you’re not having to pay to bring water into the wetland. Habitat management, which includes soil and water management, is one of the most popular strategies as it combines both habitat and water management and saves time and money. A habitat management plan ensures that water levels and soil quality are healthy to provide for the plants and animals in the wetland. It all depends on the landowners’ preference and land.

Q: Besides landowners, what can the public do to protect the land?

A: Don’t pollute! If you’re outside, pick up your trash. When you have plastic and other trash in a wetland, the materials break down and release toxic chemicals into the soil, killing plants and animals. Also, you can always volunteer if that is something you’re interested in. If you know someone who lives near a wetland, you can help with water conservation by building rainwater runoff barrels for watershed enhancement plans. There are many ways to get involved. You need to be mindful about your environment and what you’re taking out and putting into the environment.

You can volunteer with Texas Brigades by joining its volunteer registry year-round: https://www.texasbrigades.org/volunteers/

Or by applying as an Adult Leader to join one of the nine camps throughout the summer:

If you have any questions, or would like to get involved with Texan by Nature, contact us at info@texanbynature.org. If you would like to get involved with Texas Brigades, contact Natalie Wolff at natalie@texasbrigades.org

Texas Brigades provides educational programming and leadership development for adolescents through three conservation-driven, statewide programs: Summer Camps, Experiences, and Wildlife Intensive Leadership Development (W.I.L.D). Through these programs, Texas Brigades molds over 300 youth leaders each year, with participants coming from over 1,000 communities across Texas. Participants leave with a connection to the land, informed and ready to make conservation a life-long passion. Learn more at texasbrigades.org and follow them on social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)