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Sunday, February 10, 2013

WHEP Practice Contest

We all met together to head to the WHEP practice contest.  We took a good group of participation (Michelle, Sean, Henry, Edward, Brenda, Brianna, Renee, Caitlin, Naomi, Trevor, Trent, Becca, Christie, and Katy).  We began with introductions, which included our park ranger host and the local county extension agent.  Then the contest began...

We were all given a habitat management requirements chart for the four focal species (wild turkey, black bear, northern bobwhite, and mourning dove).  We were told that the chart would be given to us marked with the correct techniques, and we were to circle the correct ones that matched the scenario.  We were also given the conditions for the park about these focal species.  In general, we were told that hunting was not allowed on the park grounds and food plots were not promoted for wildlife in their natural habitat.  We then began our walk around the property.  We stopped along the way to go over the key areas of the property.

Our first stop was at a plot that was mostly covered in yaupon with a few mature trees and a seasonal creek (not acceptable for consistent wildlife use).  We were asked to evaluate the property for wild turkey and black bear.  We were only told that Wild Turkey were scarce and biologists had made call and sight counts in the fall.  Also, also the park was interested in managing the habitat to bring in more for viewing.  The Black Bear had not been seen in several years.

Larry did a great job of allowing us the opportunity to evaluate the land before he presented the "correct" answers.  In this case, the only need for the land was to manage disturbance (e.g. prescribed burn to remove the yaupon and other shrubs...disking and chaining would not have been appropriate because the trees needed to remain) and create water development for wildlife to provide water for the turkeys.  Manage disturbances relates to maintaining a habitat and plant succession at a certain stage of plant succession to provide the habitat for wildlife.  Even if the land is currently at the appropriate level, the need for manging disturbances might be needed to continue a specific need for focal species. We learned that the use of "Forest Management Techniques" was only for areas that need to remove timber (usually for value/profit) in forest area and this would be hinted at directly in a scenario.  Another way of looking at this use is to decide if the loss of habitat was worth harvesting trees OR was the land owner's desire for the tree value more important and the habitat benefit be a bonus to this desire.

Then we answered some questions about the focal species that would be used for the Junior division.  We were told that when answering the Junior questions, we did not need to worry about field conditions for this portion of the contest.  Two of the questions asked about a situation when wildlife was causing trouble on the property.  We learned that when a species is harming human assets (this might include domesticated animals or livestock harmed) the way to mange the species is to have wildlife damage management.  However, when wildlife are hurting other wildlife, the management technique should be to increase harvest (hunting or trapping).

We continued through the trail to the area designated for the Northern Bobwhite.  This area appeared to be suited for this species, but we would quickly learn differently.  We needed to have a wildlife survey performed and manage disturbances (e.g. burn to create larger area).  Also, we leaned that we would NOT use "tillage management" because this practice is used for crop land and not appropriate for a wooded area inside a park.  Larry told us about a publication that explained more about quail habitat that we should try to read..."Maintaining Quail Habitat".  We will try to find this in the near future.

Once again, we answered some questions formatted for Juniors over the same habitat and then moved on to our last scenario.  This time we learned that management for migratory birds (e.g. mourning dove) is difficult because we have no control over their habitat.

We looked out at a field with very tall, dry forbs and we were asked to evaluate the situation for Mourning Dove.  We needed to perform a wildlife survey, and then follow this with managing for disturbance (e.g. mow paths or strips to create open areas with easily accessible cover).  There was also a need for water development for wildlife, since there was no access to water.

By this time everyone was tired from the morning session and hungry!  We made our way back to the picnic tables where we were given a nice BBQ lunch.  We enjoyed the company of all the groups and the younger 4Hers had a playground to enjoy.  The weather had been cold in the morning but had warmed to a comfortable temperature.  It was cloudy but we were all hoping any rain would hold off until after the training.

Larry gave us an introduction to the next portion of the contest.  He assured the 4Hers and adult volunteers that the Wildlife Plan, along with the oral presentation, was a simple process of gathering the needed information and presenting in an orderly fashion.  He would go to great effort to keep this portion of the contest relaxed and enjoyable.  He wants the 4Hers to come into this portion of the contest with the idea that it is a learning process as well as a way to see what they have learned.  Each level of experience (Junior, Intermediate, and Senior) are given a portion of the plan format to use during the contest.  This template to gather information should help to remind the participants of the needs of the plan that should be followed.  Every plan will have the following details:

Plan Background (Focal Species to be managed and Management Objectives of the landowner)-This will come directly from the scenario and should be easily identified.

Plan Development (Habitat Requirements of focal species and Evaluation of habitat)-The first part of this development should come straight from the habitat needs found in our WHEP manual for food, cover, and water.  The evaluation is what we observe in the scenario and in the actual physical observation of the habitat.  This will include what is present in the habitat for each species and what is lacking.

Plan Implementation-This is when the management practices are given for the habitat at its current state to reach the objectives.  his should include how, when, where and the effects (on the habitat and on the species) for each management technique implemented.

Plan Evaluation-This is where we look at how to determine if the plan worked.

Plan Sketch-A drawing of the land that is being managed should be as accurate as possible and include the management techniques used.

So, then we went out to practice what we had learned.  We were told our main objective was to evaluate the pond area of the park for implementing a habitat for Largemouth Bass.  We were told that the population was unknown but some were caught regularly.  A water test revealed that the oxygen, Ph, and temperature of the pond water was adequate for the needs of the fish.  The park had a desire to improve this species to allow for more fishing.  We were then sent out in our groups to observe the habitat.

We had such a large group we decided to split into two sections.  We each went the opposite way around the "mile" path that circled the pond.  We observed the water level, clearness of the water, and plants as we made our way around.  About half way, the drizzle began and increased until it was a nice rain by the time we made it back to the picnic area (thankfully that was a covered area).  No one seemed to mind the wet too much and we were able to gather information that we thought would be helpful to create a habitat management plan.  We would later find out that we do not know much about managing ponds...but Larry was a great instructor and helped us along the way.

We learned that we should begin with a survey of the population.  Also, the water was actually too clear for the fish population and a fertilizer was needed to promote phyoplankton.  This would provide more food and vegetation growth.  There was also a need to maintain the spillway because we should have observed that the lake edge had several small cave ins and holes that needed repair.  There was also a need for a water control structure because there was not a siphon drain present to lower the water supply.  This is helpful to expand the management options for the pond to make it easier to mange the species.

Then to evaluate the plan implemented there should be a fish survey using fishing records throughout the year.  Then a simple observation of vegetation growth can be used to evaluate the success of the fertilizer.

This review of our plans was a big help in understanding the contest.  We followed this with the wildlife ID and general wildlife knowledge questions.

Then Larry gave us some valuable resources (publications of various animals).

We learned a lot and we are looking forward to updating what we learned with all the information from the other participants.

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