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National 4-H wildlife habitat program meets in Los Alamos, Valles Caldera National Preserve

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. - A hundred all-American kids -- our future natural resource managers, ranchers, and ecologists -- will descend upon Los Alamos and the Valles Caldera National Preserve July 25-July 29 for the 2010 National 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program Invitational.

Seventeen teams of 4-H and FFA youths from across the United States will participate in the wildlife habitat evaluation program's competitive event, which focuses primarily on wildlife and natural resource education.

The youths learn about natural resources management through participating 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, writing management plans, and oral defense of a written plan.

NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences' Cooperative Extension Service, which hosted the 2003 invitational in Las Cruces, is conducting the event at the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

"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, NMSU Extension wildlife specialist and co-chair for the 2010 New Mexico Invitational committee.

"While the competition is important, it is not the sole focus of the program. The youth are exposed to field trips and fun activities," said 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"

This year's participants will visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve and learn about the unique wildlife habitat of the 89,000-acre historic Baca Ranch, which is nestled inside one of America's largest volcanic calderas. Some of the competition's events will also be held at the Valles Caldera.

"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 multiday educational programming to a wide range of audiences."

The WHEP event will also benefit from the close working relationship between the preserve and the NMSU Cooperative Extension Services' youth education and science programming, which enhances the educational mission of the preserve.

Youths in 4-H and FFA programs from around the U.S. will have an ideal setting in which to participate in the annual contest and learn about wildlife habitat, and New Mexico's outstanding natural resources.

"We have a number of wildlife habitat restoration projects, fish and wildlife studies and geological research available to the students," said 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."