Youth Program Builds Conservation Leadership in Pennsylvania

Youth Program Builds Conservation Leadership in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Game Commission
Pennsylvania Game Commission

Pennsylvania – -(AmmoLand.com)- Spend a week in the field learning about deer from some of the top wildlife biologists and managers in the state! The Wildlife Leadership Adventures empowers high school aged students with the necessary skills and knowledge to become ambassadors for conservation in their home communities. The goal of this program is to equip future leaders from all walks of life with a better understanding of wildlife and conservation.

The Wildlife Leadership Adventures (WLA) begins with the residential field camp, held at Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County, where students learn through hands-on field experiences how to track wildlife, identify native plants, evaluate habitat quality, use radio telemetry to study wildlife, and much more. This program helps teens develop important leadership skills such as public speaking, critical thinking, and team work. Mark Banker of the Ruffed Grouse Society, one of the partners in this cooperative initiative, explains “WLA goes way beyond teaching kids about wildlife. The program is designed to increase confidence, communication skills and leadership, and it does.” Participants work in teams throughout the week and spend time with education and media professionals learning how to communicate with the public via public presentations, displays, radio, television, and print.

“The Wildlife Leadership Adventures differs from other outdoor camps in that our interaction with the students does not end with the residential program. It’s only the beginning,” notes a program advisor, Gail Farmer. “We work with the youth all year as they participate in education and service work on conservation issues in their communities. Their outreach achievements can qualify them to return to camp as assistant leaders, attend wildlife trips with their instructors and mentors, and qualify them for college scholarship awards. Our goal is to enable students to be informed participants in the outdoors in their communities throughout their lives.” The current graduates of the program have taken this challenge to heart. “Since 2007, WLA students conducted over 127 outreach programs and service projects, had 567 contact hours with the public, and reached an audience of over 5,000 people across 17 counties in the state,” Farmer added.

The program currently examines white-tailed deer management from a range of ecological and social perspectives. “Because of the complex nature of deer management in this state, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to engage youth and encourage critical thinking and team building skills,” Farmer said. “This camp will allow youth to interact with top biologists, managers, and their peers as they confront their own knowledge and ideas about white-tailed deer.” Sharon Seilski, a high school principal in the Conneaut School District who participated in the 2008 Bucktails program agrees. “This program is valuable to young people because it presents knowledge to them from varying viewpoints: from the perspective of the hunter, the game manager, suburban homeowners, forest biologists, etc. Students can then form their own views from a knowledge base and have some real understanding of how one species can affect so many others.” Pennsylvania Bucktails engages a diverse group of students on deer management issues to help them understand and appreciate the diversity of perspectives that exist in most communities. Enrolled in the 2007 & 2008 programs were students from rural and urban areas, and included hunters and nonhunters.

The Wildlife Leadership Adventures is a cooperative initiative involving state agencies and conservation organizations and is coordinated and administered by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education. The Program brings the knowledge and expertise of Audubon PA, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania State University, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Pennsylvania Deer Association, Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), and the US Army Corps of Engineers directly to high school students. Tim Smail of QDMA feels strongly about the long-term value of supporting this program “WLA is more comprehensive and in-depth than any other program I’ve seen or heard of. We don’t just gloss over a whole spectrum of subjects; instead, we focus, in-depth on a single species and delve into the gamut of biology and management from top to bottom. The participants are led through a focused curriculum that gives them not only biological and management facts, but also, hands-on biological, management and leadership experience which continues throughout the year and beyond. This program has the potential to be a true life experience of the type that changes lives and builds leaders.”

The 2009 Bucktails field camp will be held July 7-11 at the Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County. Tuition is $350, which includes room, board, and educational materials. Don’t let tuition costs stop you from applying — scholarships are available to help defray tuition costs. Scholarship application information can be found on the general application form. The application deadline is April 15, 2009. For more information and to download application materials visit www.PICEweb.org and follow the Youth Programs hyperlink or contact PICE at [email protected]; 570-245-8518.