|4-H Extension Corner|
|Out in the Woods – With Alabama 4-H|
It’s also a great time of year for 4-H. Many of our volunteers have just returned from the famous Southern Region 4-H Volunteer Forum at Rock Eagle in Georgia. New community and interest clubs are starting, and 4-H is "moving and grooving" in every corner of our state with Halloween carnivals, fall festivals and community service projects. Of course, autumn is an especially rich time for Alabama 4-H’s science and outdoor programs.
When many people think of 4-H science programs, they often think of our "hands-on/minds-on" activities in engineering and technology like rocketry and robotics. But most people don’t realize 4-H is also the largest youth outdoor and environmental educational organization in our state. What we offer young people ranges from the Coosa River Science School, at the world-class Alabama 4-H Center, to opportunities to compete on nationally-ranked outdoor judging teams. And, through 4-H, many young people are introduced to hunter and firearm safety, as well as the finer points of archery and shooting.
A generation ago, it was a birthright of Alabama kids to wander the woods and wade the creeks. However, with our increasing urbanization (one-third of all Alabama kids live in just four counties), a trip to the woods can be an alien adventure. Through a great 4-H program, "Classroom in the Forest/Forest in the Classroom," the Alabama Treasure Forest Association and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System have teamed up to show young people the environmental and economic roles of private forests and private landowners. That’s a noble cause, but, most importantly, the program gets kids out into the woods!
Have you been to the Alabama 4-H Center? Dozens of Alabama schools provide kids with a rich exposure to the flora and fauna of our great state at this amazing facility. School groups have day trips or overnight camping sessions where they get to meet our critters: snakes and hawks and "mud bugs." Holding a tortoise or trying to stare down a Great Horned Owl is a wonderful part of 4-H Summer Camp or the Coosa River Science School – and it is both cheaper and more enriching than a trip to Orlando!
For young people whose interests are directed toward careers in the great outdoors, there is no better foundation than 4-H. Where do foresters come from? What first piques a young person’s interest in becoming a wildlife scientist? It is quite often their experience in 4-H. And, if young people want to test themselves against their peers, there is no better place. Historically, our 4-H Wildlife and Forestry Judging Teams rank near the top in national competitions.
For example, a team of 4-H youth from Tuscaloosa County ranked sixth at the 2010 National 4-H Wildlife Invitational in New Mexico. Brandon Bounds, Hunter Ford and Levi Campbell won the Alabama 4-H Wildlife Invitational which led to their spot on the national stage. Oh, and if that is not honor enough for the formidable 4-H Ford family, Ford was named the 2010 Alabama Governor’s Youth Conservationist of the Year.
Those West Alabama 4-H Clubs spend some serious time in the woods! This year’s state-winning 4-H Forestry Judging Team came from Pickens County – and went on to compete nationally at the 4-H Forestry Invitational in West Virginia. That was James Pugh, J.W. Ashmore, Anna Gray and Jackson Lawrence, coached by Sam Wiggins, Lisa Gray and Garry Lawrence. And who knows where they will go from here: careers in forest management, positions in university research, service in international aid agencies? There is no limit to where 4-H takes young people.
And on another practical note, let’s talk about safety. Far too many Alabama young people (and adults) are killed or injured in outdoor activities. The statistics show better training and stricter laws have reduced injuries caused by ATVs. Nationally, in 2007, 150,900 people received serious injuries because of ATVs. In 2008, that number was "only" 135,100. It is heart-breaking that in 2008, at least 74 children younger than 16 were killed by ATVs. Alabama 4-H can make a difference. Please work with your community to encourage crucial 4-H ATV training. Call your county Extension office before another child is hurt!
And while you are on the phone with your county agent or regional 4-H agent, ask about 4-H hunter and firearms safety. Our shooting sports programs are all-together awesome! They are fun, educational – and make the Alabama woods an even better place to be!
Chuck Hill is the 4-H Youth Development Specialist.