Iowa 4-H Youth Excel in State Wildlife Habitat Education Program Competition

May 31, 2024, 8:30 am | Sydney Peterson, Allison Brundy

Tama Turtles, the Tama County Senior Team.AMES, Iowa – The Tama Turtles took first place in the State Wildlife Habitat Education Program senior team division and will represent Iowa 4-H at the 2024 National WHEP Competition. Team members are Lauren Keller, Wyatt Silhanek, Carlee Smith and Josey Wacha from Tama County.

The State WHEP Competition was held on May 18 in Ames. The Iowa 4-H WHEP competition provides youth the opportunity to test their wildlife knowledge in a friendly competition, working in teams of three to four youth. This year’s competition focused on tallgrass prairie and urban and wetland ecoregions.

In the morning, youth worked in teams to develop and write Wildlife Management Plans at Moore Memorial City Park in Ames. The youth also spent time on campus in Iowa State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, where they tested their individual wildlife animal species identification skills in the portion of the event called the Wildlife Challenge.  

In the afternoon, the youth and their coaches learned about monarch butterfly conservation and visited the ISU Monarch Conservation Consortium monarch breeding lab, where the youth saw the different stages of the monarch’s life cycle and learned about research being done at the lab. ISU Extension and Outreach education specialist Lynne Campbell shared how important conservation efforts are to support the monarch’s population and how all Iowans can help monarchs by planting milkweed and other flowering plants.

Iowa State graduate student Elizabeth Lang presented her research work on Blanding’s turtles in Iowa. The youth reported enjoying the true “hands-on experiences” using the radio telemetry to see if they could find hidden toy turtles in a prairie plot on campus near Science Hall II.

Youth from Franklin County look at the monarch butterfly life cycle.Wildlife extension specialist Adam Janke said, “These kids know wildlife! Watching them share their knowledge and passion about wildlife and habitats was so enjoyable. Everything from how and why to use prescribed fire to the noises native birds and mammals make. These participants worked hard to prepare for the contest, and it showed.”

Haley Princehouse, ISU Extension and Outreach Tama County office and programming assistant and Tama Turtles WHEP coach, said “This was the first year for Tama County to have a Wildlife Habitat Education Program. It has been a great 4-H program to add to Tama County. Youth have learned about career possibilities and have really developed their work ethic. While the team works hard, we make sure they have fun!”

The team prepared for the state contest by meeting three times a month since December. The youth look forward to using the knowledge learned throughout this experience in future contests.

“Most of our youth are looking into pursuing careers related to wildlife,” Princehouse added. “I can’t thank Tama County conservation naturalist Raina Genaw enough. We have partnered with Raina to learn more about each animal and topic than just from the manual. Growing the partnership between Tama County 4-H and Tama County Conservation through WHEP has led to many other partnership day camps and activities.”

Poweshiek Prowlers team uses radio telemetry equipment.In the WHEP junior team division, the Poweshiek Prowlers, with Jude Grismer, Marie Grismer and Carleigh Klein of Poweshiek County, took first place. The Franklin Foxes Red Team placed second with Barrett Bretz, Morgan Stock, Mathew Dohlman and Bryar Van Hove from Franklin County. The Franklin Foxes Green Team placed third, with Brylee Kline, Tucker Ubben and Cayden Blau from Franklin County.

In the individual wildlife challenge junior division, Marie Grismer from Poweshiek County placed first, Jude Grismer from Poweshiek County placed second and Carleigh Klein from Poweshiek County placed third. For the senior division, Josey Wacha from Tama County placed first, Wyatt Silhanek from Tama County placed second and Carlee Smith from Tama County placed third.

The Tama County WHEP team looks forward to competing at the 2024 National WHEP Competition, to be held July 28-31 in Brownwood, Texas. Two youth senior team members from Tama County shared their thoughts about participating in WHEP.

“I really enjoyed the WHEP state contest and practices with my team,” said Josey Wacha. “Meeting new people who were just as excited about wildlife was really fun, and being able to try something new was also very exciting!”

“The WHEP program has helped me to understand the importance of conservation in our community and how management practices can affect our environment,” said Lauren Keller. “I love learning about wildlife, especially our endangered species, such as the grasshopper sparrow. I would like to implement some of the management practices I have learned on my own property someday.”

Iowa 4-H Youth Development and ISU Department of Natural Resource Ecology Management sponsored the event.

For more information on the Iowa 4-H Youth Development program or WHEP, please visit or contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office.

Shareable photos

About the Authors: