County 4-H students participate in national wildlife education program

Published 4:42 am Friday, September 7, 2012

BACK FROM TEXAS: County 4-Hers, left to right, Levi Adkins, Joshua Lane, Josiah Austinson and Stennes Austinson recently participated in the National Wildlife Habitat Education Program, in Kingsville, Texas.

Special to The Post-Searchlight

Decatur County 4-H students Josiah Austinson, Joshua Lane, Stennes Austinson and Levi Adkins, recently returned from the National Wildlife Habitat Education Program (WHEP) Invitational.

The 2012 national competition was held July 22-26 in Kingsville, Texas. WHEP is a 4-H and FFA youth natural resource program dedicated to teaching wildlife and fisheries habitat management to youth in the United States. It is a hands-on environmental education program which provides participants with opportunities to test their wildlife knowledge. Each state conducts an annual Wildlife Judging contest and the winning team from each state earns the right to attend the annual National WHEP contest. Typically held the last full week of July, the national contest moves to a different state each year.

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This year’s event in southern Texas featured the Prairie Brushland habitat region and its related species. The WHEP contest is conducted over one full day and entails three individual events and two team events. Participants compete as individuals and are tested on their ability to identify pre-determined wildlife species and they are tested on their knowledge of topics ranging from wildlife habitat for select species to management practices that benefit wildlife.

Additionally, the students are taken to an outdoor site with defined boundaries and are asked to evaluate the quality of habitat for select wildlife species. Participants then compete as a team to write a two-page management plan for an outdoor site with defined boundaries that meets objectives established in a field conditions sheet provided to each team. After the plan is written, each individual team member appears before a panel of two to three judges and answers questions over a five-minute period about their written plan, as well as general wildlife questions.

Decatur County 4-H placed sixth in the nation, with Levi Adkins placing as the sixth high individual and Josiah Austinson placing as the ninth high individual. This year’s contest scores were very close, with only a three-point difference between the 10th place individual and the first place individual.

While other states complained about the south Texas heat, the Georgia team felt fairly cool without the south Georgia humidity and they especially enjoyed the absence of gnats. Team members studied diligently to become familiar with the different plant and animal species found in Texas.

“Everything in southern Texas has stickers and thorns,” said 4-H member Josiah Austinson. “The habitat is dry with only a few large trees and the management practices used are not quite the same as they are here at home. I learned a lot about the diversity of habitats in the United States.”

For information about joining the Decatur County 4-H Wildlife team or other 4-H activities, please contact the University of Georgia County Extension office at (229) 248-3033.