July 2015
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: Hosting WHEP

A team of Washington County 4-H members won the state contest and represented Alabama at the 2014 National WHEP contest in Columbia, Mo. Washington County Senior team members and coaches are, from left to right: Sarah Butterworth, Peyton Singleton, Lexi Ferguson, Emily Wilson, Thomas Anderson and Brandon Strickland.  

Alabama is host state for Wildlife Habitat Education Program National Contest in August.

This year, Alabama is the proud host of the Wildlife Habitat Education Program National Contest that will draw in youth from across the country. Approximately 250 high school students, 4-H teachers and adult chaperones will attend the event Aug. 2-5 at the Alabama 4-H Center in Columbiana. The students’ knowledge of fish and wildlife habitat management will be put to the test by engaging them in a variety of skill events. In addition to the contest, they will be learning about the diversity of natural resources in Alabama while experiencing "Southern Hospitality" at its best. This is Alabama’s second time to host the national competition since 1989.

WHEP, http://www.whep.org, is a hands-on natural resource program dedicated to teaching wildlife and fisheries habitat management to youth ages 8-19 through 4-H or FFA organizations. Annually, about 10,000 youth participants learn wildlife and fisheries terms and concepts, species identification and habitat management, and are able to test their knowledge in state competitions. Winning teams from each state attend the national contest each year in a different state with different habitat types and experience positive youth development and leadership opportunities while having fun.

  A team of Coosa County 4-H members won the National WHEP contest held in Utah in 2007. Members of the team were Anna Vines, Treavor Abrams, Elijah Phillips, Samuel Cordner along with coach Roger Vines.

WHEP originated in the Southeast as a 4-H event more than 25 years ago and now it is available throughout the country.

One of the many things that makes the national WHEP event so interesting and challenging is that the host site moves to a different part of the country each year. Through the years the contest has been held in such diverse places as the prairies of Kansas, coastal North Carolina, the deserts of New Mexico and the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

Alabama teams have always placed at or near the top of the national competition. In fact, Alabama teams have won first place eight times and second place seven times nationally.

At the national event, senior-level (ages 14-19) teams of four members compete as individuals and as teams. They make management recommendations in a variety of habitats for a variety of wildlife species, both game and nongame. As a team, contestants compose a written management plan much like a wildlife biologist might compose for a landowner. Having done that, they then stand before a panel of wildlife professionals and defend their recommendations.

Contestants compete again as individuals in identifying wildlife species by skulls, pelts, feathers, calls and habitat components from aerial photos.

The event is a rigorous one and it is quite impressive to hear and see the depth of knowledge and critical thinking skills exhibited by many of these young people.

Alabama 4-H truly believes that WHEP reaches youth from all backgrounds and helps to develop their heads, hearts, hands and health. These hands-on experiences are enabling them to become loyal citizens by acting as stewards of their environment.

Emily Nichols is a natural resources specialist and Jim Armstrong is a wildlife specialist, both with Alabama Cooperative Extension System and co-coordinators of the Alabama WHEP competition.