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Drew Metzler poses in front of the Rocky Mountains

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s role is to serve the people of Alabama with unbiased, science-based information. Sometimes, Alabama Extension professionals bend the borders and extend knowledge outside of the state. Drew Metzler, an Alabama Extension forestry and wildlife regional agent, recently had the opportunity to educate others far from home on New Mexico’s Philmont Scout Ranch – the world’s largest outdoor youth camp.

A New Frontier

A photo of the Cimarron region of the Rocky Mountains.

A valley in the Cimarron region of the Rocky Mountains.

During a conference of the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals (ANREP), Metzler learned about Philmont Scout Ranch. This 214 square mile tract serves as an enormous outdoor classroom for the Boy Scouts of America. Since 1938, this 140,177-acre terrain provides its visitors with adventure, recreation and educational opportunities in the Cimarron region of the Rocky Mountains.

One of Metzler’s fellow Extension foresters once shared their experiences as a visiting forester at Philmont. Soon, Metzler began looking for a connection to get involved.

“Having not been involved in scouting in my youth, I was not familiar with Philmont and may still not be if it weren’t for attending the ANREP conference,” Metzler said. “Although I have spent some time in the western states of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, I was a bit concerned about my lack of knowledge regarding western forests and some of the associated flora and fauna.”

After speaking with a district forester with the New Mexico Forestry Division, he set out west to support the educational platform with his skills and expertise.


Upon arriving at Philmont, the environment was an adjustment for Metzler. Although temperatures were equal to those in Alabama, there was a new factor that he was not accounting for.

“The day that I arrived in New Mexico, it was a stark departure from the usual heat and humidity of Alabama in late summer,” Metzler said. “Daytime temperatures were in the 90s, but the relative humidity reached 9%, which is undoubtedly the driest air I have ever experienced.”

After pitching a tent, acquiring a map and receiving an identification badge, Metzler began to get the lay of the land. Touring the grounds with a staff forester, they discovered forest restoration projects, ponderosa forests and areas scorched by recent wildfires.

Their tour concluded at the camp’s demonstration forest, where Metzler would give his forestry presentations to scouts as they made their way through the ranch.

Extending Knowledge

Each morning for a week, Metzler prepared his lectures and walked down the trail to the demonstration forest pavilion.

“I would begin each program with a discussion of the history of the forests at Philmont including factors such as fire exclusion, livestock grazing and the insects and diseases that have dramatically changed the forests since the arrival of Europeans and the displacement of Native Americans,” Metzler said. “To provide visual proof of forest disturbances prior to European settlement, we looked at several tree cross sections with burn scars dating from the 1600s to 1900s reoccurring throughout time.”

After each lesson, the students were hands-on with forestry measurement tools, which proved to be a scout favorite. Metzler said these activities opened the eyes of some potential future educators.

“Following each presentation, the feedback from scouts or the advisors was excellent,” Metzler said. “In fact, a few scouts indicated that they are currently pursuing or would pursue a career in forestry and natural resources. It is this sort of feedback that reinforces why I chose my career and why it is so enjoyable to share my knowledge and experiences of the outdoors with others.”

Those Who Give Also Receive

By the end of his week in New Mexico, Metzler deepened his passion for natural resources education. This opportunity may not have come about if it wasn’t for his involvement in Alabama Extension.

During his brief visit at the ranch, Metzler worked with local experts and countless scout members from 11 different states. He said he received just as much knowledge as he gave to his scouts.

“Not only did I help educate the groups I encountered but I also left Philmont with a deeper understanding of western forest ecosystems and the challenges and methods to manage them,” Metzler said. “So, I can confidently say that I gained as much from the experience as I gave.”

Extension is Everywhere 

Whether it is across the country or locally in your town, Alabama Extension helps impact lives every day. To learn more about Alabama Extension and its mission to provide people with practical life solutions, contact your local Extension office.

For more information about forestry and natural resources, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.