CLEMSON, S.C. — The South Carolina Wildlife Habitat Education Program (WHEP) Contest took place virtually this year for youth from around the state to show off what they know about the great outdoors.
A hands-on environmental education program that provides participants an opportunity to test their wildlife knowledge in a friendly competition, WHEP is a 4-H and FFA natural resource program dedicated to teaching wildlife and fisheries habitat management to junior and senior level (ages 9-18) youth in the United States.
Eleven teams and 25 individuals competed in this year’s S.C. WHEP Contest, with 65 youth, all told, participating from across the state.
State 4-H Assistant Director Ashley Burns said the program is offered as a fundamental way to connect kids with nature and the environment.
“Once they start to understand the complexities of wildlife and human interactions, we can better work together to provide a more sustainable and enriching environment for both humans and animals,” Burns said. “I love WHEP because it brings science and nature together in a very applicable way and really stimulates kids to think about careers and future in the whole wildlife management area.”
In 1996, WHEP was awarded the Conservation Education Award by The Wildlife Society, which is the only professional organization that certifies wildlife biologists nationwide.
The participants learned about wildlife terms and concepts, habitat, how to judge the quality of habitat, habitat management practices and wildlife damage management. The contest took place the first week of May, with daily content and videos from across the state from wildlife biologists, students, and researchers. The week culminated in live presentations of wildlife management plans and a virtual awards presentation.
“It’s an education program, and that’s what it is, and we hope that you learned some valuable lessons today, learned some things hopefully about yourself and maybe even looked at maybe this as a career that you want to go into — the natural resource field — because it is a wonderful career as all the committee members would tell you,” Clemson Extension 4-H shooting sports specialist Rick Willey said during the awards presentation in May.
The Nemours Wildlife Foundation supports the program, and Willey said the hope is to have the contest live at Nemours — housed on and operates the nearly 10,000-acre Nemours Plantation in northern Beaufort County — for next year’s contest.
The contest itself was structured by compiling videos from various agencies and partners from across the state to expose youth to potential career opportunities and majors in the wildlife field. Those videos came from Nemours Wildlife Foundation, Clemson University Ph.D. and undergrad students, a Clemson Extension video and from SCDNR.
The committee members for the contest came from a diversity of areas around the natural resources field and a variety of agencies in addition to Clemson University, including the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, FFA, 4-H and volunteers.
The committee included Nemours Staff Biologist Beau Bauer, Burns, 4-H Agent Mallory Dailey, FFA Program Assistant Jason Gore, Extension Assistant Professor and State Wildlife Specialist Cory Heaton, Extension Forestry & Wildlife Agent Parker Johnson, Emily Kearse with SCDNR, 4-H volunteer Glenda Lofink, Clemson Extension FNR and 4-H Agent Jaime Pohlman, Extension Wildlife Agent T.J. Savereno, Willey and Clemson Professor Greg Yarrow.
“Can they identify a specimen, a feather, a wing, a beak, a piece of grass or artifacts that are in the environment associated with certain critters? It’s exciting to really test their knowledge on a basic level,” Burns said. “And then it builds forward: now that you know a little bit about a species and certain animals, can you understand what management practices we need to put in place? And it moves from trivia to management practices to a full-blown management plan.”
The winners in the Wildlife Challenge junior division were: first place, Wilson Tisdale, Clarendon 4-H; second place, Samantha Mountford, Abbeville 4-H; third place, Blake White, Clarendon 4-H.
The grand champion junior team was the Clarendon County 4-H squad of Blake Profitt, Tisdale, and White.
In the Wildlife Challenge senior division, the winners were: first place, Stacey Martin; second place, Khloey Moore; and third place, Mya VanDyke. All came from Laurens County.
In the senior division On-Site Recommendations of Wildlife Management Practices, the first-place senior champion was Preston Rogers of the Governor’s School of Agriculture FFA and second place went to Martin.
The Reserve 4-H Grand Champion went to the team of Riley Cox, Collin Greene, Brooke Grondski and Ally Wright from the Governor’s School of Agriculture 4-H.
The 4-H Grand Champion was the team of Martin, Emma Garrett, Moore and VanDyke from Laurens County.
In the FFA division, the Reserve Grand Champion team was comprised of Rogers, Emily Rodman, Val Vasquez and Marin Hollingsworth from the Governor’s School of Agriculture FFA.
The FFA Grand Champion was the team of Bailee French, Toni Cox, Elijah Atkins and Kay Fowler from Loris High School.
The contest is modeled after the National 4-H WHEP activities and begins with a Wildlife Challenge, which involves trivia on wildlife and wildlife environments. The winning FFA team and 4-H team will be representing South Carolina at the National WHEP Contest which will also be held virtually in July.