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State 4-H Team Wins Second At Nationals
By Laura Martin
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Six months of preparation earned a team of four Mississippi teenagers a trip to Kansas and a second place win at the 1999 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program National Contest.
The Lowndes County 4-H team received higher honors at the Aug. 1 competition than any other Mississippi team in years past. They also placed first in the wildlife management plan team activity.
Contestants representing 25 states braved 100 degree weather during the contest in the Flint Hill region of eastern Kansas. WHEP is a 4-H youth natural resource program dedicated to teaching wildlife and fisheries habitat management to youth ages 8 through 19.
Bethany Daniel, a 17-year-old senior at Columbus High School, said the national competition helped her because so much of the information is useful. "It is important for people to be educated on how to better the environment," she said. "We need to learn to live together without wiping out animals."
Ninety-four contestants individually judged the suitability of habitat for wildlife species through on-site evaluation and aerial photographs. Sabrina Strait was the second high individual overall with a first place finish in the individual rural wildlife management practices. Daniel placed seventh high individual on aerial photograph interpretation for wildlife habitats. Other team members included Terry Priester and Matthew Evans.
As teams they also wrote urban and rural wildlife management plans for nine wildlife and fish species. Other activities included wildlife food identification and writing a team urban wildlife management plan.
"The volunteer adults were fantastic coaches, and we were lucky to have such qualified leaders," Daniel said. Two volunteer leaders, Debby Martin and Inez Saum, encouraged the youth to prepare for the contest. Martin has helped prepare WHEP teams for seven years and works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services.
"It takes a lot on the part of the kids," Martin said. "This group wanted to do it. I think it was the challenge. Getting to go to a national contest was a big incentive."
The group started in February with weekly workshops. The team was chosen at the county contest in April to represent the Lowndes County in the North State contest in May. In June, the state competition was held at Mississippi State University.
"In Kansas we had 10 different animals that we were not familiar with," Martin said. "It is an entirely different ecosystem. The contestants had to listen carefully to the tours and decide on the type of management that would be best for that environment."
"The Mississippi team had a really good mix of young people who worked well together," said Dean Stewart, Extension wildlife specialist and a member of the national WHEP committee. "When you bring different backgrounds and opinions together you get a better result. They trained hard and knew the material well."
"They don't realize how much they learn," Martin said. "They learn to work with others at the team events. It is a challenge to have four people working together. They also learned about giving presentations and logical thinking."
Mississippi team sponsors were Chevron, MSU, the Lowndes County Cattlemen and the Lowndes County 4-H Advisory Council. National sponsors were Champion International, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Rifle Association and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
"I would love to see more teams involved," said Jared Quillen, wildlife and fisheries Extension assistant. "We will send another team to the national event next year. It's always a fun trip. We've had a good number, but I would love to have a team representing every county."
Anyone interested in wildlife and wildlife management and the Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program should contact their county Extension agent for more details.