Youth field day at Temple Ranch covers wildlife and conservation basicsBy Tiffany McFarland
More than 200 seventh grade students gathered at the Temple Ranch near Freer, Texas, for the third annual Notice Nature Field Day Nov. 20. Hosted by Temple Ranch, the event brings together students from across Duval County for a day outside the classroom, filled with presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities about the environment, wildlife, wetlands, land stewardship and how research helps Texans manage wildlife and habitats.
“The first year, the event was just a field trip for one class as a supplement to its science curriculum that year, which was conducted in partnership with the Texas Wildlife Association’s LANDS (Learning Across New Dimensions in Science) program,” said Jenny Sanders, education and outreach coordinator for the Temple Ranch. “The field trip was such a hit that we wanted to figure out how to get more students involved. One phone call led to another, and now all the seventh graders from all three Duval County schools participate.”
The annual field day is a collaboration among Temple Ranch, Agua Poquita Soil and Water Conservation District, Duval County schools, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), USDA - Natural Resource Conservation Service, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, South Texas Natives, the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) and numerous private individuals. Temple Ranch is privately owned and operated by Arthur “Buddy” Temple and his wife, Ellen Temple, and managed by Robert Sanders. Their efforts in restoring the ranch from an overgrazed and barren state into a haven for wildlife won Temple Ranch the 2011 Texas Leopold Conservation Award, sponsored by Sand County Foundation and TPWD, the highest honor in the Lone Star Land Steward awards program.
The field day provides a unique opportunity for state biologists and enforcement officers, ecologists, scientists and conservationists to come together and share their passion for nature with students who might otherwise not learn about wildlife professions, organizers said.
The seventh graders cycled through eight stations that included presentations about soil types and erosion, wetlands and their importance in an ecosystem, and the role of game wardens in conservation and management. Another station demonstrated prescribed burning and how it is used as a management tool for wildlife and habitats. Students were also taught about how their food comes to their table, at the “Pasture to Plate” station, which included a live steer.
Students gained hands-on experience at the upland game bird research station, where they learned about wild turkeys, turkey biology and wildlife research techniques, including radio tracking using telemetry.
“We hid some transmitters out in the bushes around our station and let the students use a telemetry receiver to track them down,” said Dr. Bret Collier, IRNR research scientist, who leads a research project on turkeys at Texas A&M University. “They have to listen carefully to the speed and volume of the beeps the receiver makes, which indicates whether they are traveling in the right direction and how close they are. I think they got a kick out of it.”
As an added bonus, they were able to get up close with McQueen, a 6-month-old male turkey found abandoned on the ranch that is being raised by the ranch manager, Robert Sanders, and his family.
“McQueen was a real hit,” Robert Sanders said.
Another big hit with the students was the Animal Adaptations station, where Daniel Kunz and Matt Reidy of TPWD and Tiffany McFarland, IRNR research associate, taught students about skulls and skins from their local wildlife and how the animals’ biology makes them experts at what they do to survive. Toward the end of the presentation, Reidy, an avid falconer, brought out his 6-month-old Peregrine falcon for the students to see up-close.
The final event of the day gave the students a chance to see and feel the insides of a white-tailed deer. Dr. Bill Eikenhorst, a Brenham veterinarian, led what was probably the most hands-on experience for the students. Six deer were necropsied as part of the ranch’s annual harvest management program, and students were able to gather around a deer, and with the guidance of Eikenhorst and some rubber gloves, examine different parts of a deer, both inside and out.
“These deer gave their lives so that you can learn from them and about them. That is their gift to you, so take advantage of what knowledge you can obtain from this experience,” Eikenhorst said.
Because dissection laboratories in schools use much smaller animals, for many students this anatomy lesson was a valuable opportunity. Although there was some initial squeamishness, students quickly got into the idea and jumped right in.