Alabama 4-H Center hosts 26th annual National WHEP Contest
Published 10:59 am Tuesday, September 8, 2015
By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer
COLUMBIANA – More than 50 young people and their coaches from 14 states recently saw firsthand various wildlife and natural resources present in Shelby County during the 26th annual National Wildlife Habitat Education Program Contest held at the Alabama 4-H Center in Columbiana.
From Aug. 2-5, the youngsters participated in WHEP, a hands-on natural resource program dedicated to teaching wildlife and fisheries habitat management to children and teens ages 9-18 through 4-H or National FFA organizations.
Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife specialist, and Emily Nichols, Alabama Extension natural resource specialist, coordinated the event in Alabama.
“One of many things that make the national WHEP event so interesting and challenging is that the host site moves to a different part of the country each year,” Armstrong wrote in a press release. “Through the years, the contest has been held in such diverse places as the prairies of Kansas, coastal North Carolina, the deserts of New Mexico and the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.”
A Tennessee team won first place in the 4-H division of the contest, and teams from Alabama and North Carolina placed second and third.
An Indiana FFA team won first place in its division.
Gavin Rankins of Alabama was the top-scoring individual. Evan Buck of Tennessee and Tatum Epperson of North Carolina were the second and third place top individuals.
The program, which originated in the Southeast as a 4-H event more than 25 years ago, allows nearly 10,000 young participants to learn wildlife and fisheries terms and concepts, species identification and habitat management, and to test their knowledge in state competitions each year.
Winning teams from each state attend the national contest, which blends competition with positive youth development, leadership opportunities and fun, the release read.
“We’ve received a lot of great feedback,” Nichols said. “It is truly impressive the level of knowledge and skills that these youth that participate in the program possess, from all over the country, and some people have never been to the Southeast. To be able to test their knowledge and skills in this southeastern ecosystem is pretty neat.”
Another significant part of the event is the Treasure Forest program, which is offered through the Alabama Forestry Commission.
This year’s Treasure Forest site was Yellow Leaf Farm owned by the Strong family.
Nichols said Treasure Forest is a program “unique to Alabama” that provides an opportunity for people in the state to show their efforts in sustainability management.
Nichols said this year marked the first time the WHEP contest has been held at the Alabama 4-H Center.
“It’s a big undertaking,” she said. “The national contest is hosted by the state. The national committee has 11 members from different states who keep the program alive. It’s a really neat, huge collaborative effort.”
At the national event, senior-level (ages 14-18) teams of four members compete as individuals and teams to make management recommendations in various habitats for a variety of game and nongame wildlife species.
“Overall, it was just a really neat experience for everyone involved, especially for the kids.”