Managing the future: Area youth succeed in national range forum
Nebraska youth claimed first and second place in the Society for Range Management High School Youth Forum. Colorado and South Dakota are home to the third and fourth place finishers.
The top five finishers are as follows:
1st place: Joseph Barenberg, Nebraska
2nd place: Jadyn Tidyman, Nebraska
3rd place: Chrisly Furia, Colorado
4th place: Johnathon Neuharth, South Dakota
5th place: Alexandra Mitchell, California Republic
Students qualify to compete at the national level by placing in the top two or three from their home state or section with presentations about their own range management research. The 2023 competition was held in Boise, Idaho in mid-February and students from this region excelled.
According to the SRM’s website the SRM is an international organization that strives to promote public awareness of the importance of sound management and use of rangeland, the world’s largest land base. In 1966 the SRM recognized a need to involve youth with the range-related activities and education provided at this annual meeting. Since that time, the High School Youth Forum (HSYF) has been a highlight of the SRM annual meetings. Volunteers of the SRM Student Activities Committee conduct the program.
High School delegates to the HSYF are chosen by each of the 22 individual sections of the parent society throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, based on their high degree of interest in the range and natural resources field as well as on their exemplary dedication and effort to learn more about this particular area.
While at the HSYF, they will have the opportunity to meet people from many countries and get a firsthand view of what SRM is all about including its organization, goals and the role it plays on a world-wide basis. Beginning in the early 1970s, the program format began to encourage youth thought and enhancement of communication skills. A taste of what range professionals do was achieved by asking each Forum delegate to prepare a 6-to-8-minute formal presentation on a range related topic. All presentations are judged by a diverse panel of judges, with the top five papers being recognized at the SRM awards ceremony. In addition, other activities will include a local ecological field tour of the meeting site and a program to enhance communication skills.
Since the number of delegates that can attend each year is limited, selection for this activity is considered a high honor for those students selected. These youth select a topic by visiting and working with Society members, research an idea, prepare a written paper, and then present the main ideas of the paper in a formal speaking presentation. The Forum delegates most often continue to use their presentation in other youth competitions, as speakers at various summer camps and local organization meetings and serve as ambassadors in their states or sections for range stewardship.
Joseph Barenberg of McCook, Nebraska, the son of Steve and Stacy Barenberg took home first place. His presentation was on Drought Effects on Rangeland. A subject that he is personally familiar with. 2022 in Dundy County, Nebraska was the driest in recorded history and has taken a toll on the Barenberg cattle operation. Joseph helps his father run their cow/calf operation which has fostered his interest in grasslands and the harsh effects of droughts. “My paper covered ways to help the land. We have reduced our stocking rates, culled hard, not replacing numbers and leaving more grass so that the moisture will have better effect,” he said. “We also try to feed longer and let the grass get more of a start before grazing in the spring.”
Joseph was one of three Nebraska delegates sent to the competition. His father sent him to Range Camp in Curtis, Nebraska and that was what inspired his attending the state meeting in O’Neill, Nebraska. The high school junior hopes to help educate people on range management and the ecosystem. “I hope to pass on to other people my passion for rangelands and how unique they are.”
Jadyn Tidyman from Chadron, Nebraska is the daughter of Tim and Jenifer Tidyman. Her presentation on Dung Beetles took second place honors. The Range Judging camp in Curtis, Nebraska was also where she was inspired to try competing. The high school sophomore credits her success to her FFA advisor encouragement. “I had never thought about range judging before, but my FFA advisors Jon Cogdill and Mari Beth Moore made us do it. I didn’t know anything about range management before, or about the wildlife and public speaking, I’ve learned so much. Mary Reece and Lisa McMillan were so much help and Anna Ferguson helped me so much to make it to O’Neill.”
The Tidyman family has an agriculture background, raising cattle before moving to Chadron a few years ago. Currently Jadyn focuses on her involvement in FFA, public speaking and caring for her 4H steers along with her brother. “I want to learn as much as I can about range management and hopefully in the future be able to help ranchers manage their range lands. By competing at the national level, we all have a much better chance of being hired by the NRCS, SRM and the BLM.”
Jadyn said her experience competing in Boise was a once in a lifetime experience. “I met so many amazing people and I learned a lot about different things. Once you go to the High School Youth Forum you can’t compete there again unless you are the first-place winner, but I might compete when I’m in college. But it is an amazing program, and every kid should be involved in it.”
Chrisly Furia of Trinidad, Colorado came home with third place for her presentation Home on the Range. The high school junior is the daughter of Chris Furia and Jennifer Green. “I attended a school that didn’t offer FFA until seventh grade, so when I switched schools, I was able to join the FFA and started to learn about rangeland and that it isn’t just grass. I totally didn’t expect to love the competition but I did,” Chrisly said. “My father is an outfitter so we have rancher friends that I have known my entire life. One of them was talking about how the elk compete with his cows. I started researching how both wildlife and cattle can be beneficial to both the health of the environment and the ecosystem.”
She said that she loved the competition in Boise. “I’m a very competitive person so I really liked it. We were there for four days, we toured ranches, went through a wild horse processing facility but I really liked listening to all the presentations. We had a clip-on microphone and it was all very professional. Even though we were high school students they took us very seriously and listened to what we had to say.”
“It was cool to meet kids from around the country and even Canada, I have new friends. I found a group of people I belong to by joining the FFA. I’m very grateful for this experience, as much work as it was it was an amazing experience to go and do,” she said. “FFA isn’t just for people who own cows, it has given me so many opportunities. I hope to be an Ag teacher someday to help others find their place and have a good range judging team of my own,” she said.
Fort Pierre, South Dakota’s Johnathon Neuharth spoke about Our Broken Grasslands and brought home the fourth-place plaque. In his talk he discusses the importance of grassland habitat, what is happening to our grasslands with cropland conversion and woody encroachment as well as what we can do to help keep our grasslands thriving.
The freshman is the son of Levi and Crystal Neuharth and helps them care for and show goats, farm and custom feed cattle. “Most of my day is outside working. I have learned a lot about the grasslands, and how we are losing them. I’m trying to bring awareness to this problem and help to save them.”
Johnathon is homeschooled and has been public speaking in 4H since he was eight years old. From speaking at the state capitol when their family farm was announced the South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award in 2021, to presenting at the America’s Grasslands Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota and local meetings and competitions. “I hope to put my knowledge into presentations and inform the public about these problems.”
Gracie Ackles from Farwell, Nebraska was the third Nebraska student to attend the forum and was elected the student president for the year. Gracie is the daughter of Jeremy Ackles and Lacey Lange and credits the Curtis, Nebraska Range Camp for igniting her interest in range management. “My FFA advisors asked if I wanted to go, and then I was sent a letter offering the opportunity to go and present in O’Neill, Nebraska at the Nebraska Section meeting of the SRM. They took three of us and the paper winner from last year to the national meeting in Boise, Idaho.”
Gracie is a junior and has enjoyed learned about range management. “I’m learning how to get involved in a career aspect. What steps I need to take for college classes and I’m learning about jobs I’m interested in.”
She was one of 23 high school delegates and in Boise they nominated students who were interested in serving as president. “Those of us nominated, then gave a three minute speech about why we would serve as a good president. Those with the most votes moved onto the second round and finally it was narrowed down to two Nebraska students. I was elected president and Joseph won the HSYF competition.”
The new president will serve a one-year term and will be attending zoom meetings and speaking with sponsors and sending them letters. “I will also be sending emails to delegates, reminding them of paperwork that needs done, and introductions. At the next meeting I will be introducing delegates and handing out certificates. I will also introduce speakers and presentations and run the business meeting and speak with sponsors about the HSYF and what should change, the good and bad,” Gracie said.
“I encourage kids who don’t know about range management to jump in and get involved, it’s a lot of fun. Range management plays a big part in Nebraska Ag.”
Joseph Barenberg and Gracie Ackles will be attending the 2024 SRM international meeting in Sparks, Nevada and will be able to share with and mentor the new delegates.