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NMSU, Valles Caldera National Preserve to host National 4-H wildlife habitat contest

JEMEZ SPRINGS, N.M. - More than a hundred future ecologists, ranchers, environmentalists and current all-American kids will descend upon the Valles Caldera National

e next summer.
New Mexico State University and the preserver have been selected to host the 2010 National 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program Invitational. NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences' Cooperative Extension Service, which hosted the 2003 invitational in Las Cruces, will conduct the event at the preserve.

The event will gather more than a hundred youngsters and their mentors from around the country for five days of competition, learning and fun at the preserve and in Los Alamos next summer.

The Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program is a 4-H youth natural resource program dedicated to teaching wildlife and fisheries habitat management to youth in the United States.

"4-H WHEP provides an opportunity for young people to experience real-world natural resource management issues and the science that informs management decisions," said Sam Smallidge, New Mexico State University Extension wildlife specialist and co-chair for the 2010 New Mexico Invitational committee.

The National 4-H WHEP Invitational is a competitive event, whose primary focus is wildlife and natural resource education. Natural resources management is learned through participation in the contest and the associated field trips, educational events, and demonstrations. The contest includes five components - wildlife identification, general wildlife knowledge, wildlife management practices, a written management plan, and oral defense of a written plan.

"While the competition is important, it is not the sole focus of the program. The youth are exposed to field trips and fun activities," NMSU's Summer Eaton, National 4H WHEP committee member and co-chair for the 2010 New Mexico Invitational. "WHEP events help participants develop critical thinking skills and learn how to work as a team. The participants are given real-world situations and work together to provide solutions to natural resource problems that managers face every day."

The Valles Caldera National Preserve was selected because it provides an outstanding venue for the contest and associated educational activities.

"We are excited about hosting the 2010 WHEP event," said Gary Bratcher, executive director for the preserve. "We believe the Valles Caldera National Preserve will offer participants a lifetime of memories and demonstrate that the Caldera is ideally suited to provide multi-day educational programming to a wide range of audiences."

The WHEP event will also take advantage of the close working relationship between the preserve and NMSU Cooperative Extension Service's youth education and science programming, which enhances the educational mission of the preserve. Youth in 4-H and FFA programs from around the U.S. will have an ideal setting in which to learn about wildlife habitat and New Mexico's outstanding natural resources and to participate in the annual contest.

"We have a number of wildlife habitat restoration projects, fish and wildlife studies and geological research available to the students," said Dr. Bob Parmenter, Valles Caldera National Preserve science and education director. "These projects, coupled with scientists from NMSU and the National WHEP program, will provide a valuable science-based outdoor laboratory for the participants."

The event will begin July 25 and run through July 29. The participants and host volunteers will conduct classroom work and be housed at the Hilltop Inn at Los Alamos.