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University of Wyoming

Laramie – In mid-February, the Society for Range Management (SRM) recognized Derek Scasta, University of Wyoming Extension rangeland specialist, with their Outstanding Young Range Professional Award.

“The Outstanding Young Range Professional Award recognizes SRM members who exhibit superior performance and leadership potential in any range-related area,” says the organization, who noted Scasta’s research and outreach work has implications that reach far beyond the borders of Wyoming.

“This award is a huge compliment for me,” Scasta comments. “I have a lot of mentors within SRM, and recognition by my peers is very humbling.” 

He continues, “This is the culmination of two decades of work on range issues, and I can’t be any prouder.”

Scasta further recognizes that the people he has worked with – including agency folks, elected officials, ranch owners and managers, and the public – have also played a role in his career.

“I have worked with some great people through my career, and they are a big part of the reason this recognition comes back to Wyoming,” he says. “I work with great people throughout this state.”

Background

Scasta spent his early years in Texas and Oklahoma, where he was born, raised and educated.

“I have degrees from Texas A&M University, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State Universities (OSU) in range and agriculture,” he describes, noting he approaches range management from a livestock perspective. “I’ve always been interested in sheep and cattle, focused on agriculture and all the natural resource issues across the West.”

“In the last 10 years or so, I’ve been focusing on range issues,” he says. 

However, before he came to Wyoming, Scasta worked as a county Extension agent for eight years before getting his Ph.D. at OSU. He also worked in row crop agriculture during his time in Extension. 

“After I got my Ph.D., the job at University of Wyoming came open,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to work in the Great Plains and Northern Rocky Mountain states.”

After visiting Laramie, Scasta says, “My values and perspectives on life fit well with the folks and culture in Wyoming. I’ve enjoyed every minute since, and I really love Wyoming.”

Wyoming work

At UW, Scasta’s time is split between Extension, research and teaching, with about 50 percent of his time spent working in Extension.

SRM notes, “Dr. Scasta’s research and outreach span the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions, and from tallgrass prairie to sagebrush steppe and mesquite-dominated rangelands to high-elevation forests. He has assessed the effects of drought, fire and grazing on rangeland vegetation, livestock production and ungulate spatial distribution while engaging audiences on hot-button topics including predators, prairie dogs, wild horses and fire.”

His work appears in more than 40 articles published in refereed journals. 

Scasta describes, “My research usually addresses concerns people in the state have. We’ve worked on feral horses in the Red Desert and prairie dogs in the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. We’ve also worked on public lands grazing allotments and also in addressing fire- and drought-related questions.” 

“The research questions I work to answer should have applied outcomes for ranchers, agency personnel and non-governmental organizations,” Scasta says.

Teaching 

Though teaching is a relatively small percentage of his charge, Scasta has dedicated hours to mentoring UW students. 

“He is an accomplished educator and communicator with an uncommon aptitude for educating learners of all ages to further the application of recent advances in rangeland management, while addressing complex problems that have stymied managers and agencies for decades,” SRM explains. “An award-winning teacher and student advisor at the University of Wyoming, he developed two new courses, Applied Fire Ecology and Nutritional Ecology and Management of Rangeland Ungulates, and he instructs students in special projects and experiential learning.”
Each year, Scasta advises and coaches members of the UW Range Club, this year leading them to winning SRM’s largest student award – the Trail Boss Award.

SRM involvement

In his brief career, Dr. Scasta has actively contributed to SRM at both the section and parent society levels, while demonstrating devotion to developing future SRM members and range professionals as a university professor,” SRM says.

SRM comments, “Dr. Scasta has demonstrated extraordinary potential and promise as a range management professional and a future leader in the range profession.”

Scasta cooments, “We’ll just keep doing good work in Wyoming for the people of Wyoming.” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lingle – The Taters for Tots program, sponsored by University of Wyoming (UW) Extension teaches children the importance of agriculture and giving them the chance to experience production agriculture in a hands-on way. 

For the past six years, elementary-aged children in the Lingle area have been invited to visit and pick potatoes, all while learning about the important role production agriculture plays to Wyoming and the world, according to UW Research Scientist Brian Lee. 

Program history

Lee explains potatoes, though not as prominent as they once were in the area, have historically been a staple crop for Wyoming. 

The program is based out of the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC), where community outreach and youth education are primary goals.

“The overall goal of this program is for kids to experience agriculture and learn about production,” says Lee. “Some of these kids have never been exposed to production agriculture in any way.”

Potato picking and beyond

Lee explains Taters for Tots, is something the faculty and staff at SAREC look forward to each year.

“Taters for Tots is one of our favorite events every year,” says Lee. “It’s really great to get the kids out there and experiencing agriculture in a hands-on way.”

Participating students are generally around the third grade and come to visit in the late fall when the potato harvest is at its peak, according to Lee.

The students begin their trip by viewing a short video presentation about the history of potato farming in Wyoming and the various ways to eat potatoes. 

“Once the students are done with the video, they go out to the field and dig up potatoes, with the assistance of our faculty and staff,” Lee explains. 

“The kids can take home as many potatoes as they can carry,” he says. “Some of them struggle to carry their haul through the field and onto their bus.”

A love for agriculture 

Lee notes they want kids to leave the farm not only stocked with potatoes but with a positive experience and basic knowledge of production agriculture. 

He explains for the staff on the farm, Taters for Tots is a great way to get back to the basics of agriculture and remind everyone why they truly love agriculture.  

“Seeing kids out in the field having a good time is a great reminder for all of us as to why we do what we do and why we love agriculture.”  

At the end of the season, the remaining potatoes are donated to various organizations within Lingle and Torrington. 

“We send some of the leftovers to the food bank, and others we donate to different functions sponsored by various organizations within the community,” says Lee. 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Canine dysautonomia (CD) has been shrouded in mystery since its discovery in the early 1990s. 

University of Wyoming (UW) researcher Brant Schumaker is trying to determine the cause of the often-fatal disease to better prepare veterinarians and dog owners to treat the disease. 

Canine dysautonomia 

“To be put simply, CD causes dogs to lose control of subconscious bodily functions such as urination, digestion, heart rate and eye dilation,” Schumaker explains. “The disease attacks the neurons in the body that control these functions.”

He explains some of the earliest signs of the disease are a lack of appetite and regurgitation, but these symptoms also present with a number of other common illnesses in dogs. 

“The disease moves very quickly,” Schumaker says. “Some cases will go downhill within a few days and others may persist weeks.” 

Schumaker comments the length of the disease is dependent on a variety of factors including individual susceptibility and differential exposure to the cause of the disease. 

“It was previously believed the disease had an over 90 percent fatality rate,” Schumaker explains. “But with more recent clinical experience we’ve learned that, if animals avoid serious complications, there can be as low as 50 percent fatality.”

According to Schumaker, CD does not show preference to different breeds of dogs. It was first reported in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and in the United States in Wyoming in the early 1990s.

The disease is also geographically isolated with documented cases in the Midwest, spanning as far west as Wyoming and east into Kentucky. 

Causes

“We don’t currently know what causes CD,” Schumaker says. “We have looked for consistent patterns in the affected areas and haven’t been able to determine the cause.” 

He explains the cause could be a number of things, from bacteria to fungus or even soil features unique to the affected areas. 

“The disease is commonly associated with outside dogs who have exposure to wildlife and livestock,” Schumaker says. “While the wildlife and livestock persist outside the affected area, the disease does not, which leads us to believe the root cause is in the environment.” 

He comments while there is some evidence of horizontal dog-to-dog transmission, it is more likely the disease is picked up in the environment. 

“Even in the cases where it appears one dog catches it from another, we believe the contaminant was on the dog’s fur, and the second dog caught it that way and not necessarily through transmission,” Schumaker explains. 

Species to species

He explains while there are similar dysautonomia diseases in other species, it does not appear as though the disease is transmissible between animals. 

“There are other similar diseases in other species, such as Key Gaskell Syndrome in cats, but they aren’t the same,” says Schumaker. “We have yet to see an instance where multiple species on the same property were affected.”

“Finding the cause of CD is the number one goal in our research,” he says. “Once we figure out the cause, we can formulate treatment plans and give recommendations to practitioners on how to effectively treat it.” 

Treatment

“Dogs have this amazing ability to compensate for neurological damage and continue normal function,” Schumaker explains. “Those that are able to survive this disease can maintain quality of life depending on the scope of neurological damage.” 

He explains since there isn’t a known cause of the disease, there isn’t a vaccine or specific treatment for affected animals. Various forms of supportive care are used to treat sick dogs. 

“We have to keep them alive long enough for their bodies to begin compensating for the losses,” he says. “Effort from the owners is critical.” 

“Depending on the signs, vets will use appropriate supportive care to keep the dog alive,” says Schumaker. “Supportive care comes in the form of nutrition or different types of drugs that maintain digestion, urination and defecation.” 

Roadblocks

“One of the biggest roadblocks we have with our research is funding,” Schumaker says. “While the disease affects hundreds of dogs in the region annually, it just hasn’t been raised to national attention like canine heart disease and cancer.”  

He explains how the tests they run on samples from affected dogs can cost in the ballpark of $1,000 per sample. Without the attention from national organizations, the team has had to take a more grassroots approach to solving this issue. 

“We have a lot of people who are interested and willing to help solve the mystery of what causes this disease,” he says, “but we are pushing to get more funding for our research.” 

“We are relaunching the effort to find the cause, come up with a diagnostic test and ultimately find a treatment,” Schumaker says. 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net.

University of Wyoming (UW) Range Club members brought the prestigious Trail Boss award back to Wyoming for the second time, according to Derek Scasta, UW Extension rangeland scientist and Range Club coach. 

Trail Boss Award

“The Trail Boss Award is the Superbowl of range competitions,” Scasta explains. “The award is dependent on participation and success at the Society for Range Management annual meeting.” 

According to the Society for Range Management (SRM), the Trail Boss Award is a traveling trophy awarded annually to the college that generates the highest aggregate score for both accomplishment and participation in the collegiate student activities conducted during the SRM Annual Conference.

Scasta explained the competition takes into account the number of students participating and how successful they are in a number of competitions, including plant identification, public speaking, undergraduate research and a professional test.

“University of Wyoming is one of only two universities to have ever won the Trail Boss Award twice,” Scasta explains. “Previously, University of Utah was the only university to win the award twice.”  

UW beat out 26 other colleges and universities across the United States, Canada and Mexico. 

In addition to the Trail Boss Award, the team brought home first place honors in public speaking and multiple other top 10 finishes. 

Four members of the team were also elected into leadership positions within the Young Professional’s Conclave.

Young Professionals’ 

Conclave

The Young Professionals’ Conclave (YPC) consists of a highly prestigious group of senior undergraduate students, graduates and professionals within the first five years of their careers. 

Representing UW are seniors Averi Reynolds and Jaycie Arndt. 

Reynolds got involved with the conclave after serving as vice president of the Student Conclave in 2018. 

“As a member of the student conclave, I got to attend the national board meeting for the Society of Range Management,” she says. “After participating there and getting to give recommendations on membership, I graduated to the Young Professional’s Conclave.” 

Learning and guilding

Reynolds says her goal as part of the conclave is to build avenues of communication between younger undergraduates, young professionals and longtime members of the society. 

“I was lucky to establish great contacts early on in college, and I really hope to help other students in doing that,” Reynolds notes. 

Reynolds will continue her education at UW and plans to apply her knowledge of range management to her planned grazing research in graduate school.

According to SRM, YPC provides opportunities to help build relationships between students, graduate students, young professionals and long-time members. YPC is the initial liaison for undergraduate students, graduate students and young professionals seeking an active role and participation in SRM. 

The mission of YPC is, “to strengthen the relationships between students, apprentice members, young professionals and experienced professionals within SRM to promote strength in leadership, education, research and stewardship of rangelands.”

Range Club

“Range Club has a very long history at UW,” Scasta says. “There are numerous opportunities for students involved in the club.” 

Scasta explains the biggest perks of being a part of the organization is networking. Since the UW club is affiliated with the national SRM, there are lots of opportunities for students to network.

“We bring our students to a variety of meetings and events sponsored by SRM,” he explains. “This gives students the chance to interact with industry professionals.” 

He explains the organization is multi-faceted in that students are able to network and practice skills learned in the classroom. 

“These competitions allow students to practice the skills they learn in the classroom as well as develop soft skills such as public speaking,” he explains. “This shows students are capable of more than just regurgitating information.” 

“We want to provide students an avenue to plug into the range discipline whether that be by winning contests, securing a job or going back to the ranch armed with knowledge,” says Scasta. 

“We have students who go on to work in research or in government services such as Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service or Extension,” according to Scasta. 

Scasta notes the club is looking forward to the Wyoming State Range Society meeting in the fall, as well as the club banquet in April. 

“Going into the summer many of our students will be beginning full-time jobs as well as pursuing internships in research and in the field,” Scasta says. 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..