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Wild Learning

WHEP acquaints youth with valuable wildlife management skills.

By Page Fullerton

Three students from the Denton County 4-H Club represented Texas at the national 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program invitational in Blacksburg, Virginia, last summer. Ted Hatch, 15, of Denton, Elliot Holtzman, 18, of Highland Village, and Michael Schwind, 14, of Sanger, brought home a 5th-place prize for their rural wildlife management plan and came in 14th overall.

“For our first time, we can’t complain,” says Diana Schwind, the team’s coach. “The whole thing was a phenomenal learning experience.”

To earn the privilege of going to the nationals, the students previously triumphed over 18 other teams from all over Texas. In that effort, they were assisted by a fourth student, Travis Kuehler, 13, of Copper Canyon, (Kuehler was unable to participate in the nationals because the rules require all participants to be at least 14).

The Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program, also known as WHEP, offers hands-on experience in wildlife management skills for students ages 9 to 19 throughout the country.

The program was founded in 1978 as the Tennessee Agriculture Extension Service’s Wildlife Judging program. Competitively evaluating wildlife habitat instills in participants the fundamentals of wildlife ecology through applied habitat evaluation and manipulation and collaboration with professional biologists, teachers, farmers and ranchers, parents and volunteers. WHEP also promotes education about wildlife and fisheries habitat management, which gives upcoming generations a better understanding of the benefits of effective land management.

Although 4-H clubs are most commonly associated with agriculture, properly managing habitat for wildlife can play a crucial role in a farmer’s job and income and in the farming industry itself. Well-managed land means higher crop productivity, better habitat and, therefore, more wildlife.

The state and national wildlife habitat evaluation contests consist of five major parts: identifying best wildlife management practices for different land types; matching wildlife foods with the appropriate species; ranking habitat suitability for a given species with aerial photographs; writing a wildlife management plan and writing an urban wildlife plan.

To prepare for the competitions, the Denton County team visited several parks and wildlife management areas and held mock contests.

For more information about the Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program and efforts to educate future generations about the importance of wildlife management skills, call your county extension agent or 4-H coordinator. Visit the program’s official Web site at www.whep.org.

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