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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are you Smarter than a Wildlife 4Her?

If something could go wrong this morning it did...At 8am I had already been up for 3 hours trying to get last minute things together for our contest.  And I was in a panic!  I am usually pretty calm when it comes to contest day.  But this morning, I realized that I had forgotten two big things that had to happen before I could leave. 

First, I remembered that this was the contest when we need to bubble in scantrons.  These scantrons are specially made for the contest and must be ordered from a company.  Thankfully, I always buy extras.  The problem:  Where did I put them?  After a frantic search through a very large tub full of wildlife supplies, I found the bottom of the tub, of course! 

Then I raced to get the boys up and out the door when it dawned on me that I needed to have the registration forms in hand at check in.  This might not seem like a problem but the forms had to be signed by our area NRCS coordinator.  I had the forms but I could not remember where I had placed them!  I began my search but to no avail and I was at the point of tears. 

Now if you are not a believer in God, you probably should not be reading my blog, because God is the only thing that gets me through situations like this.  I hollered out, "Lord, you better help me figure this out because it is beyond me!"  And wouldn't you know, I looked at a stack of papers on my desk and there lie the forms! 

I raced to the car and headed to the contest!  I prayed the entire way to the contest for the 4Hers to be humbled as I was this morning and to be filled with a superabundance of wisdom.  I thanked God for each one of them and asked God to bless them.  And I can tell you it was from my heart because I was just crying the entire time! 

And would you believe it?  We arrived at the contest early in spite of everything!  I had prayed so hard for the team before the contest, so I asked if anyone else would like to pray when we gathered together.  I thought it was so sweet that Edward said he would pray.  He simply asked God to help our teams.  This brought tears to my eyes all over again.  I was glad to get it all together and get ready for the contest.  I just emphasized how proud I was of both teams because I knew they would do their best.

Once the teams were grouped in their stations, the coordinator announced that he needed to talk to all coordinators.  That has never happened in the past, so I was a little surprised.  Then the coaches were told that most of us would have been disqualified if they had gone strictly by the rules.  We were told team members must all be wearing collared shirts, long pants, and close-toed shoes.  We were also not allowed to use wooden clipboards.  And, this would be the last contest with a compass & pacing course.

When the coordinator announced the dress code, I have to admit I was a little surprised.  We had never been told about a dress code and we this was our first year to create team shirts.  We were so proud of ourselves and liked the matched look.  Unfortunately we purchased t-shirts and we will not be able to use them again.  I thought it was ironic that this would also be the year that we would buy new compasses for all the participants as well.  We would now find out that it was an unnecessary expense. 

Then I was asked to help judge the fairness of the contest.  All I can say is it was a hard contest.  I think they must have watched us study and picked questions from the portions we had not seen.  So let's see how you would have done on the contest.  Have you heard of the popular game show "Are you Smarter than a Third Grader?"  Well we are going to play "Are you Smarter than a 4Her?"

The first two question on our contest is to identify common plants associated to wildlife in our region.  The 4Her must first identify the plant correctly in order to answer the second question referring to the wildlife animal preference to the plant.  We are asked to know 51 different plants and identify 15 of these plants for contest along with the preference to specified animal species.  The following is an example from yesterday's contest:

The plant is Smartweed which is liked by turkey and waterfowl.

Question 3 questions are based on a wide-range of knowledge associated with the key wildlife animals of the contest (deer, squirrel, quail, turkey, mourning dove, javelina, pronghorn antelope, and waterfowl).  For example:

What type of bird is a turkey?  The answer is gallinaceous birds.

If you don't know what a gallinaceous bird is, don't feel too one could tell me at the contest either.  However, looking it up when I got home, I found out it is just a fancy scientific word for "heavy-bodied ground-feeding domestic or game birds."

The next questions (4 and 5) are about Wildlife evaluation and management practices.  The 4Hers are taken out to a piece of property and given a scenario. Then they must determine if the property is adequate or deficient for three specified animal groups.  Then they must determine accurate management practices to improve the set property.

Today, the 4Hers were taken out to the following property and asked to evaluate and manage the property for deer, squirrel and turkey.

For the management practices, the 4Hers were also given the following scenario:

"I have just purchased 1000 acres.  I would like to develop a 20 year plan to manage the area for deer, turkey, and squirrel.  Observation and spotlight data have shown that buck to doe ratios are 1:5.  I have a water well, several pipeline-fed water troughs, a creek, and ponds throughout the property, I have no intentions of grazing cattle.  I may consider harvesting some timber but only if it will help me maximize my wildlife potential.  I do not believe in removing any hardwoods because I do not feel like I have enough to do so.  I regularly see hogs and coyotes on the property."

I have underlined some key clues to help us determine the management practices for this property (The 4Hers were not given this advantage.)  The answer is:

Deer                                                 Turkey                                    Squirrel
Animal damage                                Animal damage                      Food plots
Population management                   Prescribed burning            Retain hardwoods                  

Prescribed burning                            Streamside management       Prescribed burning
Streamside management                   Construct access/firebreaks
Construct access/firebreaks   

The hardest part of this portion of the contest is knowing what the clues mean.  The first point is that this is a long term plan.  When initially looking at the property it has obviously had a prescribed burn recently (2-3 years); however, because it is a 20-year plan and they do not intend to thin timber or remove hardwoods (obviously retain hardwoods because it was requested by landowner, but only needed for squirrels in this scenario), there will be a need for prescribed burns in the future.  The fact that there is already existing water is a clue to have streamside management.  Also, we are told that there are animals that might harm the livelihood of targeted species so there needs to be animal control; however, squirrel are not effected by animals mentioned.  The deer population needs to be reduced to even out the ratio.  Also, due to the lack of diversity, a squirrel population would be maximized by food plots during stress periods.  It is always a good practice to have access roads or firebreaks on a large piece of property, however, it would not affect the squirrel population.

I know this is a long explanation.  However, you can see that the 4Hers must really think thorough this portion of the contest.  They are actually counted off if they choose a management practice that is not correct and can end up with a negative score!  I also think this is the most subjective portion of the contest, with every wildlife biologist deciding a different plan.  It is also one of the most helpful of all the parts of the contest (You just need to know the other parts to understand this one.) for anyone who wants to own property.

Question 6 was about game laws.  For instance: 
Harassment of hunters, trappers, and fishermen is punishable by what fine? 

The answer:  $200-$2000 and/or up to 180 days in jail.

Question 7 is about "Outdoor Safety," which is a very broad definition including hunter, ATV, boating, fishing, and more. 

Yesterday the 4Hers were given a set up from a boating trip.  They were also given a scenario (I won't give those details today.)  and asked several questions, including:
The group of three men were running low on bait while night fishing.  Jack and Fred get out on a nearby island to continue fishing.  John takes the boat back to the marina to buy more bait.  Is this considered safe or unsafe? 

The answer is unsafe.  It seemed like a good enough question to me when I was helping to judge the fairness of the contest.  However, the coaches spent a lot of time discussing why it should be considered unsafe before judging the rest of the contest.  I must say, I learned a lot about judging contest today!

The 4Hers would then go to the technique portion of the contest.  This is what I call the curve ball of the contest because you never know what you are going to get.  One example of a technique question is:

Yeah...I know it's upside down!...but sometimes that's how the 4Hers see the questions also!  LOL! 

Did you guess "coyote?"  WRONG!!!  That is a fox!  It is too small to be a coyote and a possum has a few smaller teeth in front before the sharp teeth seen in this picture (Sorry I don't have technical names for these teeth.  More to learn for next year!).

The 4Hers ended the contest with a compass & pacing course and then were able to enjoy a BBQ lunch while we waited (and waited) for the results.  In fact, we waited so late into the afternoon that most of the teams left for home.  However, we stuck it out, and I think it was worth the wait.  I got to talk to several coaches one on one, making good contacts for the future.  And, we found out firsthand that after all of our studying (and some powerful logical thinking on the part of our participants!) we were awarded 2nd and 4th place in the contest!  We will also be allowed to take one team and an alternate to the State contest in April. 

I am glad we have a head start in our studies because the contest will be in the Panhandle this year.  The plants are quite different and we will need the practice.  Also, my family will be making a trip that direction (more on that later) so can hopefully pick up some plant specimens.

I am so proud of all the participants (The picture is only of the ones who were able to stay until the end.  I will try to have a group shot in a later post).  They really did a great job and stayed positive throughout the day!  We also had the extra bonus of having the high point individual from our club.  Great job, David!

It was another great 4H day!

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