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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Contest Begins

On the first day of WHEP contest we arrived at Sul Ross University just after 7am.  Yes, we were early but we were excited to start the contest.  We met our host for the event, Ms. Warnock, and she was so helpful.

Soon after others trailed into the building and we began our orientation.  The atmosphere for this contest was so different from others that we have been involved.  The 4Hers quickly began to meet each other and talk about their past experiences, while coaches registered for the day.  Mr. Hysmith also had a large supply of pencils and rulers (and even clipboards) in case these supplies were needed.  Orientation went quickly and we were formed into a caravan for the hour drive to the contest location in the Davis Mountains Nature Preserve.

The teams began the contest with a hike into an open area below the mountains.  They were given the basic scenario which included the objectives of the land owner, focal species (black-tailed prairie dogs and pronghorn), and conditions of the property.  The team was asked to form their habitat management plan.

While the team was off on their adventure, Lynda and I took the younger boys down the mountain so we could purchase lunch supplies.  We took several pictures along the way also as it was such a beautiful drive.  We arrived back just as the teams were coming back.  It was so nice to see smiles on their faces as they walked back to us!  A big change from the bewildered looks we had at the last contest.

We had a nice picnic lunch and then the 4Hers went back out for the second part of the evaluation.  In this part of the contest the 4Hers were given a second scenario in a different part of the property.  They would determine the appropriate techniques needed for seven focal species.  When we study for this we are given a chart with all the techniques for each of the 17 animals for the region.  It appears that you should just memorize the chart and all will go well.  However, the 4Hers must combine their knowledge about all of the techniques available and the scenario to determine the techniques needed.  It is not a matter of checking all of the boxes because the boxes marked incorrectly are counted against you in the end.  Although you cannot have a negative score, you can have a score of zero. Once the 4Hers returned the coaches were allowed a chance to review this portion of the contest.

Then we headed back down the mountain to the university.  We were given the opportunity to participate in a workshop about telemetry.  There were several college students available to demonstrate the devices used to track various wildlife species.  Then the 4Hers were allowed to use the equipment to find hidden collars that were surrounding the area.  Katy, Sean and Edward were the first in their group to search and Henry would be the second in his group.  Sean found his right as we were ready to leave.  He had found a quail collar hidden in a grape vine.  Katy found her quail collar in a bush also.  Edward never found his collar.  Henry had almost found his but had to give up the hunt so we could leave...he found out later that his collar had been buried right where he had searched!

We had dinner at a place called Penny's Diner, a classic old-time diner in a chrome style building.  The boys begged to sit at the counter but I would only let them sit there to watch the cooks prepare our meal.  We enjoyed our meal and headed back to the university for our dessert.  We were going to have S'mores with the WHEP crew!  It was so much fun and we continued to be surprised by the family atmosphere of this contest!

We ended another day exhausted after preparing the team for their oral defense of their plans.  We have never had this part of the contest so I think the group was a little nervous that night before.  We would find out how nervous in the morning!

I do have to say I am already proud of our little group of newbies.  After our first contest, I asked what they had done and they could not answer.  Today, they came back and could not talk enough.  They even had written down notes of their plan for their defense.  I can already see a vast improvement and look forward to hearing the results tomorrow.  Whether we are first or last, I look at our team as a group of winners as they persevered and have improved a hundredfold.  They have shown that 'make the best better' motto sometimes is really about making yourself better.

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