AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The Alabama 4-H Wildlife Habitat Education Program (WHEP) has been inspiring the minds of young people for decades. This year, a team of young wildlife experts advanced to a national stage to show off their unique skills.
What is the WHEP program?
This premier wildlife education program was the first of its kind upon its creation in 1978. WHEP caters to 4-H and National FFA Organization youth and teaches wildlife and fisheries habitat management.
Students from ages 9 to 18 study wildlife terms and concepts as well as habitat quality and management. Each year, each participating state holds a team competition to determine who gets to travel to participate in the National WHEP Competition.
Alabama’s WHEP Contest
The 2022 Alabama WHEP contest was held June 24 and 25 at the Alabama 4-H Center. In a competition of wildlife knowledge, many youth teams representing multiple counties were scored by judges and professionals. Alabama’s victor was the Walker County senior division team.
In the following weeks, they prepared for a national opportunity alongside Alabama Cooperative Extension System professionals to further craft their skill.
After traveling to Auburn University’s campus, the group had the opportunity to work with Alabama Extension 4-H Specialist Emily Nichols and Regional Extension Agent Drew Metzler. Everyone worked together at Auburn University’s Mary Olive Thomas (MOT) Demonstration Forest where they studied wildlife habitat management practices.
“The focus of Walker County’s WHEP group was to learn more about the Eastern deciduous forest ecoregion because it was the designated testing region for the national competition in late July-August,” Nichols said. “Many hours were spent identifying species found in the deciduous forest as well as the foods they eat and their habitat needs.”
Their final stop on The Plains was the Auburn University Museum of Natural History. Everyone enjoyed learning more about fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. This venue was an excellent location to perfect the group’s identification skills.
Big Help for the Big Stage
Alabama 4-H’s WHEP program would not be the same without an integral part of the team. Nichols said Walker County Extension Coordinator Danny Cain has been an important piece of the puzzle.
“For 25 years, Danny has led wildlife clubs and has even taken several teams to the national contest,” Nichols said. “He has been instrumental in keeping young people in Walker County involved in learning about wildlife and habitat management. He has a true gift in teaching the knowledge and skills to kids for the state contest.”
Representing 11 state WHEP programs, Alabama’s WHEP team to London, Kentucky, for an in-person national competition for the first time since 2019. Teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah attended the contest. Alabama’s Walker County team placed fourth overall in the competition.
Until Next Time
The Alabama 4-H WHEP program aims to educate more youth about the wonders of wildlife. Until next year, all teams across the state will continue to hone and sharpen their wits for the next opportunity to shine.
Volunteers for 4-H programming are crucial to its success. For more information about getting involved in Alabama 4-H, visit the Alabama Extension website’s 4-H webpage or contact Nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org.