MILFORD, IOWA – High schoolers representing 15 states from across the United States visited the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory on the shores of West Lake Okoboji near Milford to compete in the 2023 4-H and FFA Wildlife Habitat Education Program National Contest, July 30 to August 2. Teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Utah and Pennsylvania competed and learned together throughout the event.
Iowa 4-H youth participants were Eva Dohlman, Natalie Dohlman and Parker Haller of Franklin County. Jackie Dohlman and Thomas Rice of Franklin County coached the Iowa 4-H team.
On the first day of the event, participants met one another, sharing facts and souvenirs representing their respective states at a welcoming ceremony and share fair. On the second day of the gathering, participants learned about wildlife conservation in Iowa from wildlife biologists, researchers and educators from the Iowa DNR, Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, Clay County Conservation and Iowa Lakes Community College.
Coaches and participants enjoyed hands-on learning experiences related to land and wildlife management techniques, including fish shocking, aquatic insect sampling, invasive species management and radio telemetry. A 40-mile bus trip around the region also took the group to unique ecological sites, including a fen, several remnant and reconstructed prairies, a kettle hole wetland and glacial lakes.
Participants competed in multiple hands-on wildlife and habitat conservation events on the third day. The competition tested youths’ wildlife identification skills and ability to recommend habitat management practices in tallgrass prairie ecosystems for various wildlife species. Participants also worked as a team to write and orally defend a wildlife habitat management plan.
The event concluded with an awards ceremony recognizing top teams and individual competitors in 4-H and FFA divisions. Mississippi placed first in the 4-H division, and South Carolina won the FFA division. Tennessee (second) and South Carolina (third) rounded out the top three in 4-H, and Indiana (second) and West Virginia (third) rounded out the top three in FFA. The top individual in the 4-H division was Ashlyn Henderson, Mississippi, and the top individual in the FFA division was Thomas Marshall, South Carolina.
Karolina Heathcock from Mississippi said, “Attending the WHEP competition has been very fun. I loved the workshops exploring the prairies and learning about the Tallgrass Prairie ecoregion. It has been so neat to be at the Iowa Lakeside Lab research station and be close to the prairies.”
“This has been one of the best things I have ever done. It has been a wonderful opportunity to meet so many new people and learn so many new things. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time,” said Jacob Allman from Georgia.
“I had fun learning about the fens in northwest Iowa. I also really liked learning about the different careers in natural resources,” said Blake Kitzmiller of West Virginia.
Support for the 2023 national contest was provided by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, Whitetails Unlimited, the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University; and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The Wildlife Habitat Education Program started in 1977 and is designed to teach youth about wildlife and fisheries science and conservation. More information about the National 4-H Wildlife Habitat Education Program can be found at https://www.whep.org.
For more information on the Iowa 4-H Youth Development program or Iowa WHEP, please visit https://www.extension.iastate.edu/4h/whep or contact Allison Brundy, 4-H natural resources program specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Adam Janke, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach wildlife specialist and WHEP national committee chair, at email@example.com.
Photo 1: Fifty-seven youth participated in the 2023 WHEP National Contest from 15 states across the U.S.
Photo 2: The winning team in the FFA Division, South Carolina FFA.
Photo 3: The winning team in the 4-H Division, Mississippi 4-H.
Photo 4: The Iowa WHEP team – Front left to right: Kaycie Waters, natural resource specialist; Natalie Dohlman, Franklin County; Eva Dohlman, Franklin County; Jackie Dohlman, coach, Franklin County. Back left to right: Adam Janke, extension wildlife specialist; Parker Haller, Franklin County; Thomas Rice, Franklin County coach; and Allison Brundy, Iowa 4-H natural resource specialist.