Iowa 4-H'ers Receive Award at 77th Annual North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

AMES, Iowa – The GIS Mapping Replication and Expansion Project, a unique partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and 4-H, was honored by the FWS and 4-H National Headquarters with the 2012 Connecting Youth with Nature through Natural Resources Conservation Education Award. Two Iowa youth, Jennifer and Benjamin Akers of Oskaloosa, accepted the award and spoke about the project within Iowa.

The award was presented at the 77th Annual North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Atlanta in March.

According to Jay Staker, director of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Science, Engineering and Technology (E-SET), students in four states -- Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas and New York -- are partnering with FWS sites in their states to do GIS mapping within the site. The students are mapping trails, invasive species, prairie burn effectiveness, assets within the sites and more. The students in Iowa focused on invasive tree species in the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Jasper County.

Ben and Jennifer Akers, Iowa 4-H youth, presented their work at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge during the award reception in Atlanta. They met with FWS  Director Dan Lane and deputy directors at the reception.

“The project provides interactive, hands-on learning opportunities in parks,” Staker said. “It also builds leadership skills and pathways to careers in natural resources stewardship through classroom and field activities.”

The project was designed to enable youth to experience nature and gain real-world conservation experience. GIS is in every aspect of life, from Google Maps to foursquare, said Staker. This project is important in that it helps prepare youth for careers that utilize GIS.

“The goal of this project is to link kids to the outdoors and to help them learn more about natural science while using this new technology,” said Staker.