Friday, December 3, 2010

SRM Spotlight: Matt Wagner, Texas Section

By Julia Workman, SRM Outreach Intern
“Don’t be afraid to go in a direction that’s outside your comfort zone, your area of expertise,” says Matt Wagner, Deputy Director for the Wildlife Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He has always loved being outdoors—first fishing, then hunting—and learning about the plants and the wildlife there.

So it was that he became involved in Range Management at Texas A&M University and joined SRM, and later (after a brief stint of working on ranches in Texas) received his Master’s degree in Range Management at Montana State University. Matt moved back to Texas with his wife after three years in Montana and began his professional career at the Texas A&M Experimental Station. He has now been with Texas Parks and Wildlife for 22 years, and received his Ph.D. in Regional Planning, with an emphasis in Developmental and Water Planning, from Texas A&M in 2005.

Matt says he still enjoys hunting and fishing, as well as reading (especially about conservation) and getting together with his large family in Texas.  After almost 30 years in SRM, Matt has served on various section committees and as section Director. A little over a year ago, he took on the duties of Second Vice President of the Texas section and in January will assume the role of President of the largest section in the Society for Range Management. He says it’s important to be involved in a professional society for the networking, continuing education, and professional development—especially the opportunity to become a certified professional.

Overall, though, networking is one of the aspects he has found to be most valuable throughout his involvement with SRM. He has met many inspiring people, young and old: especially, he says, “the newer ones who are really hungry for information and whose energy rubs off on some of us old guys.”One aspect of networking in the Society that Matt feels is particularly important is getting long-term members—those with experience—to mentor the newer generations. He comments that the constant communication younger generations now experience, with friends and colleagues, is distracting and creates an expectation that things should happen quickly. They have to learn that anything takes time when dealing with the natural environment. He suggests that the Internet, as a tool with which young people are very familiar, could be employed to organize a mentoring system in SRM.

However, current practices such as the Annual Meeting mixers and especially local field days and tours are great ways for the two groups to come together. He says that younger members can learn a great deal by interacting with older generations at these functions when they turn their cell phones off and are unafraid to introduce themselves to professionals.

Another important shift in the Society today involves incorporation of new viewpoints and reaching out to people in “nontraditional” areas such as policy, human dimensions, and social relationships. The multidisciplinary approach to managing rangelands, Matt says, will retain its importance as the profession moves forward. Rangelands are the largest system in the world so we will always need people with specific training in rangelands, but these people will have to be able to work with other aspects as well. And, says Matt, just as range managers now have to deal with a broader range of factors for successful management, they also have to deal in broader scales. Technology such as Google Earth allows land managers to see their parcels in the context of the surrounding landscape, and integrate the bigger soil and water properties. Matt would like to see larger organization within SRM based on larger landscape details such as watersheds or large ecological areas.

Matt also talked about the changing US and global economy. He admitted that it doesn’t look so bright, but added that by the time today’s college student reaches retirement age, we will have seen natural resources management and the economy merge. “It’s based on scarcity—the economy will follow demand. Natural resource management is the next growth industry.” He foresees a future where natural resource managers become national leaders and hopes that SRM will become more visible to the people “on the land, managing the land” as this change takes place.

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