4-H Wildlife Habitat Education Program
Welcome to the Arkansas 4-H Wildlife Habitat Education Program (WHEP)! Our announced region for 2019 contests and events is Tallgrass/Mixed Prairie. Wildlife ID will also include species from both Urban and Wetland ecoregions.
What is WHEP?
Are you interested in learning about wildlife? The 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program (WHEP) is a 4-H youth natural resource program dedicated to teaching wildlife management to Cloverbud, Junior and Senior level (ages 5 - 19) youth in Arkansas. Nationally, WHEP has earned a solid reputation for being a 4-H program that fosters relationships between youth, professional wildlife and fisheries biologists, agents, volunteers, parents, teachers, and farmers. Participants learn essential life skills such as oral and written communication and decision-making. Youth strengthen their self-concept and character through interaction with peers and professionals from Arkansas and different parts of the country.
Arkansas WHEP improves understanding of wildlife and habitat management, and has led some youth to pursue wildlife careers. Understanding wildlife and our natural resources is something that every 4-Her can benefit from. As one 12-year-old WHEP participant stated in his 4-H journal,
“Even though I really enjoy sheep . . . I don’t think I will continue to raise them in my later life. However, ever since I was really young, I have enjoyed wildlife and nature. For the past four years I have competed in the state WHEP contest. I like competing in WHEP because studying tracks, skins, and other animal signs is interesting. I actually do the management practices that I study about on our farm, like putting up bird feeders or planting mast trees. Most of all I enjoy hiking in our woods. Every now and then I come across a track or hear a bird song, and because of what I’ve learned in WHEP, I can identify the animal.”
Arkansas WHEP engages youth in learning about wildlife, habitats, and habitat practices through local clubs coached by 4-H leaders. It is supported by a state-level practice session in February and a state contest in April or May. An Arkansas WHEP handbook offers leaders guidance about the Arkansas contest.
Arkansas WHEP is a multi-agency partnership program. It is coordinated by a steering committee comprised of county Extension agents and specialists from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, wildlife educators and biologists from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, U.S. Forest Service, Plum Creek and 4-H WHEP volunteer leaders.
History of WHEP
The 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program (WHEP) had its beginnings when Drs. Jim Byford and Tom Hill of the Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service initiated the Wildlife Judging Project in Tennessee. With support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a conference was held in 1985 to explore the possibility of a Southern Region program. The first Southern Invitational was held in 1987. In 1988 the second Southern Invitational was supported by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and a conference was held concurrently to discuss the possibility of a national event. In 1989 the first national event was held with the support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
In 1990-91 the program was expanded nationally and the first handbook was produced with sponsorship by Champion International Corporation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The handbook incorporated the basic concepts originated by Dr. Byford with the addition of landscape regions from throughout the United States, urban activities, and a wider array of habitat management practices and wildlife species to manage.
Arkansas WHEP began in 1991 with a state training for Extension faculty, staff, and agency partners. The first state contest occurred in 1991 or 1992. The state contest was held annually at the C.A.Vines 4-H Center in Ferndale. In 1999, program changes were made, such as forming a steering committee, rotating the location of the state contest, development of an Arkansas handbook, addition of a practice session, and expansion of the program to include juniors and cloverbuds. In 2009, about 130 4-Hers and 50 non-contestants attended the state contest.
The national program continues to change as well. From approximately 1998 – 2001 a program evaluation was conducted, a website became active, and national WHEP trainings were conducted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Champion International Corporation and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation offered financial support during several of these years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discontinued its support in 2008 when federal budget cuts precipitated its withdrawal as a sponsor.
Since its inception, the program and handbook has been revised many times, sometimes with major changes to the contest. In 2008 and 2014, substantial changes were introduced to the Invitational. In 2008, A wildlife identification activity was added and the urban plan dropped. A general test of wildlife concepts and knowledge was added which includes content from the former aerial photos and wildlife foods events. The focus of the oral defense changed from aerial photo selection to the defending the wildlife plan. By 2014, wildlife identification, foods, and concepts and knowledge were consolidated into one event, the Wildlife Challenge. More reptiles and amphibians were added. Compared to the original contest, the national contest has shrunk to only four events - Wildlife Challenge, Wildlife Management Practices, Wildlife Management Plan, and Oral Defense.
Goal/Purpose: The National and Arkansas 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program is designed to teach youth the fundamentals of wildlife management. Although these are competitive events, their primary function is education. Wildlife management is learned through participation in statewide activities and county clubs, and through field trips, practice sessions, and demonstrations. Additional benefits come from developing leadership capabilities and interacting with youth and wildlife professionals from across the state and nation.
Program Overview: The Arkansas 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program conducts a state contest and practice session each year. Contests are held at various locations throughout the state. Awards are given to junior and senior competitors in individual and team events. All contestants compete as individuals. Teams are comprised of three or four members from one county. Juniors and seniors who don’t have enough county members to form a team are grouped with individuals from other counties the day of the contest (with permission of your county agent).
Training Resources: Arkansas 4-H WHEP Handbook, 4-H Wildlife Project Books, WHEP Leader guide, local nature centers, Audubon chapters, U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologists, Project Learning Tree (Arkansas Forestry Association), Project WILD & Regional Education Coordinators (Arkansas Game & Fish Commission)
The best way to get started in WHEP is to attend the WHEP Practice Session. The Practice Session introduces 4-Hers and coaches to the contest activities. Start with the regular or beginning tract, even if you have a Senior team. Understanding the fundamentals is necessary for developing an award-winning wildlife management plan and doing well in the state contest.
Each year, a region is selected for the WHEP State Contest. Wildlife species associated with the announced region become the focus for the contest. Each region has about 17 to 25 species. For the Wildlife Identification activity, eligible species are those listed in the urban region (17 species) plus the announced region. The remaining contest activities focus only on the species listed in the announced region.Use the handbook as the study guide for learning about wildlife. Some ideas to prepare for WHEP are:
- Go outdoors and identify wildlife signs such as tracks.
- Give 4-Hers 10 – 15 minutes to go outdoors and collect items that wildlife eat. Use information in the handbook to categorize the foods and identify which species in the list consume the items.
- Visit a nature center or state park. Contact an interpreter in advance and ask them to give a presentation about the species on your list.
- Have 4-Hers develop their own quizzes, study notecards, and presentations for studying wildlife characteristics and habitat needs using resources on the internet, such as eNature (www.enature.com) or eBird (www.ebird.org).
- Ask an Audubon Society member to help with identifying birds on the species list. Get some binoculars and observe these birds.
- Talk to the Regional Education Coordinator in your area from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (1-800-364-4263) and schedule a presentation(s) about wildlife identification, foods, and concepts listed in the handbook.
- Talk with other WHEP coaches and 4-H Leaders. Find out how they train their WHEP teams.
- Visit a nearby wildlife management area and ask a wildlife biologist to describe the types of management practices they conduct in the area.
- Call your Regional Education Coordinator with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (1-800-364-4263) and ask them to teach your club about a particular wildlife species or management practice.
- Talk to your County Forester (501-296-1940, www.forestry.state.ar.us/) and schedule a presentation about prescribed fire, thinning, and other forest management practices.
- Ask a County Forester or Wildlife Manager if a prescribed fire is scheduled in your area, and get permission for observing this practice – at a safe distance.
WHEP Practice Session
The practice session provides both newcomers and experienced WHEP participants with training in preparation for the state contest. Youth, coaches, parents, county agents, and anyone interested in learning about this contest is encouraged to attend. In 2019, the Practice Session will be held at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center.
NOTE: The study material is suitable for Junior and Senior 4-Hers. Cloverbuds who are ready for advanced learning may attend the Practice Session, but need to be supervised by an adult 4-H leader, parent, county agent, or other guardian.
What to BringBring clipboards, pencils, and paper for taking notes. Sessions are held indoors unless the weather permits outdoor exploration. Lunch is provided as part of the registration fee.
WHEP State Contest
The state contest recognizes those youth who excel in their understanding of wildlife and habitat management. This one-day event typically starts at 9:30am and concludes with the awards ceremony at approximately 3:00pm for juniors and 4:00pm for seniors. Educational and/or recreational opportunities are available to non-contestants (e.g., parents, coaches, siblings) and Juniors who complete the contest after lunch. A different contest location is selected each year to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the different habitats in our state.
Achievement is accessed through competitive scores in contest events. Information about each of these events is available in the handbook. The Arkansas handbook closely follows the national invitational’s handbook. The handbook is designed to provide uniformity for state and national contests. Recommended management practices are presented in a generalized way using representative species occupying major habitats. The reality of wildlife habitat management is often more complex. Emerging knowledge about wildlife and management, financial and political issues and technological improvements affect how habitat is best managed and restored.
The winning team of 4-H Seniors is eligible to represent Arkansas at the national WHEP Invitational and compete against other state teams for recognition and awards.
What to Bring
Each contestant needs to bring an unmarked clipboard and several pencils with erasers. (Pencil sharpeners are not available.) The contest will be held rain or shine, so dress according to the weather and be prepared to be outdoors. Wear close-toed shoes. Sunscreen, hats, rain gear, and insect repellent are advisable. Electronic devices including cell phones, calculators, and computer watches are not allowed.
With county approval, Cloverbuds can learn about wildlife while Juniors and Seniors are competing -- if your county is already bringing Juniors and Seniors to the competition. Supervised Cloverbuds will be given time typically in the morning to complete a Wildlife Identification station. Adults are encouraged to help Cloverbuds as much as needed. This is an educational opportunity offered to these youngsters, as they represent the future of the WHEP program.
Arkansas 4-H WHEP Handbook
Tallgrass/Mixed Prairie Handbook is a lengthy document which combines the releveant materials from below. It includes a front and back cover, and is set up for printing on both sides of a page.
Copies of the complete WHEP Talllgrass/Mixed Prairie Handbook can be purchased through your county office for about $10/copy black & white, or $35/copy color, plus shipping and handling. Handbooks are three-hole punched and shrink wrapped. County offices can order these from the CES print shop in Little Rock. Be sure to ask for the 2019 Tallgrass/Mixed Prairie Handbook.
Because the entire handbook is quite lengthy, and because only select material for the announced region is needed annually, the handbook is divided into sections for your printing convenience.
Introduction Overview, Rules, and Scoring Species List by Ecoregion (table) Descriptions of Ecoregions (Introduction) Eastern Deciduous Forest Mississippi Alluvial Plain Southeast Mixed and Outer Coastal Plain Forest Tallgrass/Mixed Prairie Urban 1. Wildlife Identification **2019 includes Tallgrass, Urban & Wetland Species 1-1. Event Description 1-2. Study Material Species Descriptions (all ecoregions) Eastern Deciduous Forest Species Mississippi Alluvial Plain Species Southeast Mixed and Outer Coastal Plain Forest Species Tallgrass/Mixed Prairie Species Urban Species Wetland Species 1-3. Contestant's Scorecard (selected region + urban) Eastern Deciduous Forest & Urban Mississippi Alluvial Plain & Urban Southeast Mixed and Outer Coastal Plain Forest & Urban Tallgrass/Mixed Prairie & Urban 2. Wildlife Foods and Concepts 2-1. Event Description 2-2. Study Materials Wildlife Concepts & Terms Wildlife Foods Chart (for reference only) Eastern Deciduous Forest Foods Chart Mississippi Alluvial Plain Foods Chart Urban Species Foods Chart Wetland Species Foods Chart Wildlife Foods Definitions Glossary of Terms 3. Interpreting Wildlife Habitat from Satellite Images (Juniors only) 3-1. Event Description 3-2. Study Materials Interpreting Satellite Images 3-3. Scorecard (example in Word)4. Wildlife Educational Activity (Juniors only)
4-1. Event Description
5. Wildlife Management Practices 5-1. Event Description 5-2. Study Material Descriptions of WMPs Chart (selected region) Eastern Deciduous Forest Mississippi Alluvial Plain Southeast Mixed and Outer Coastal Plain Forest Tallgrass/Mixed Prairie Urban Wetlands 5-3. Contestant's Scorecard (selected region) Eastern Deciduous Forest Mississippi Alluvial Plain Southeast Mixed and Outer Coastal Plain Forest Tallgrass/Mixed Prairie Urban 6. Wildlife Management Plan (Seniors only) 6-1. Event Description 6-2. Study Guide
6-3. Judge's Scorecard
7. Oral Defense (Seniors only) 7-1. Event Description 7-2. Study Guide 7-3. Judge's Scorecard
ResourcesEducational Videos about Tallgrass Prairies
- Grazing, FIre, and Invasive Species Interactions on the Tallgrass Prairie
- Roth Prairie Natural Area, Explore Arkansas edition (10:57 mark to 14:53)
Scenarios for past Wildlife Management Plans in Arkansas
4-H Wildlife Project Books
"Wildlife Is All Around Us" Series The Wildlife Detective (Book 1) Spring (Book 2) Summer (Book 3) Fall (Book 4) Winter (Book 5) Leader Guide Intermediate 4-H Project Books
4-H Wildlife Project: The Wildlife Ecologist
4-H WHEP Leader Activity Guide - Arkansas Animal Tracks and How To Know Them (1953 article. Virginia Wildlife) Animal Tracks (HikingMichigan.com) Basics of Population Dynamics (Clemson Extension) Fishy Business teaching activity Foods Flash Cards (Purdue Extension) Furbearer Tracks (South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks) NatureWatch Digital Photo Handbook (U.S.D.A. Forest Service) How To Prepare Pelts (New Mexico Extension) Tanning Deer Hides and Small Fur Skins (New Mexico Extension) Teacher's Guide to Wetland Activities (Ducks Unlimited) Wildlife Skull Activities (Arizona 4-H Extension) Cleaning and Preserving Animal Skulls (Arizona 4-H Extension)
Wings Over Arkansas - recognition program (AR Game & Fish Commission)
Educational wildlife tote boxes are available on loan to County 4-H agents and their leaders. The following tote boxes are available: (1) furs and skulls, (2) plastic tracks, scat, egg replicas & identiflyer, (3) resource books. Materials need to be picked up from the Extension state office (Little Rock) and returned within two weeks during January – April when contest materials are in high demand. County agents are responsible for reserving and returning either one, two, or all three boxes by calling 501-671-2329.