Mercersburg Teen Completes Challenging, Unique Wildlife Field School
State biologists from throughout Pennsylvania instructed and inspired the next generation of conservationists at the Wildlife Leadership Academy (WLA), formerly Wildlife Leadership Adventures, on July 7-11, 2009. A biological field station on the shoreline of Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County served as the host site for the beginning of this program.
Youths, ages 14-17 years old who must demonstrate leadership prior to WLA, were selected from outstanding teenagers across the commonwealth and beyond. Among these students, Ali Pates of Mercersburg's James Buchanan High School applied in early April and was chosen to take part in this extraordinary statewide program this past summer.
Each WLA field school focuses on a single wildlife species. The only field school to date, aptly named PA Bucktails, focuses on white-tailed deer, a species of regard in Pennsylvania whether you are a wildlife watcher or hunter. In 2010, WLA will add another field school to the program, PA Drummers, focusing on ruffed grouse. "The ruffed grouse is one the most popular upland game birds and also the state bird," points out Mark Banker, regional biologist for The Ruffed Grouse Society. He also notes, "The ruffed grouse represents a large group of wildlife that uses the most imperiled forest habitat in Pennsylvania - young forests."
Michele Kittell, WLA Program Coordinator, points out "Our field school differs from other weeklong programs. When applying for the program the students agree to participate in at least three outreach activities in their home communities. We facilitate these outreach activities, encouraging students to participate in projects beyond his or her required activities. The conservation outreach focuses on environmental education, community service, and/or participation in the arts. The goal of the WLA field schools is to provide the students with the tools and knowledge to become informed leaders for wildlife conservation now and in the future."
Graduates of the program to date have taken the WLA challenge to heart, having conducted more than 159 conservation education, communication, and service projects, engaged in 730 contact hours with the public, and reached an audience of more than 6,000 people across the state!
The Wildlife Leadership Academy is a cooperative initiative involving state agencies and conservation organizations and is administered by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education. The WLA program brings the knowledge and expertise of Audubon PA, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania State University, Kutztown University, the Ruffed Grouse Society, Quality Deer Management Association, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and prominent biologists directly to high school students.