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Project wild: Students get to know the animals of Utah

The deer, bear, elk and moose were easily identified by a group of young first-graders. The peregrine falcon, bighorn sheep and even the pelican were not so quickly named, even though all of the animals share residency in the same state — Utah.

Again, the fox and cougar were easily recognized by youngsters. Not so easily named were the rubber boa, collared lizard or big-eared bat, again all Utah residents.

But then, few youngsters have had the opportunity to explore the Western deserts where the lizards live, or to see a bat up close, even though they fly the airways above the entire state, or to walk the Wasatch/Cache National Forest to the north to search for a boa.

Which is one reason wildlife is being brought into the classroom through a program called "Project WILD," or Project Wildlife In Learning Design, which is being run through the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

It is the longest functioning wildlife education program in the United States — 22 years — and the most complete. So much so that countries like Sweden, Iceland, India, Canada and Japan are also using the program.

More than 50,000 educators a year pass through the program here in the United States. Sometime in 2005 or 2006, it will accept and graduate its millionth educator.

Here in Utah, the training program is being run by Diana Vos, program coordinator for the DWR.

As a teaching tool, the DWR has produced and printed two sets of wildlife cards. Each packet contains sixteen 8-by-10 cards, with each card showing an animal on the front, with information about habitat, foods, notable features and management or conservation efforts on their behalf on the back.

The first set features photos of a desert bighorn sheep, beaver, mountain bluebird, bobcat, mule deer, elk, moose, bear, marmot, pelican, Mojave desert tortoise, Utah tiger salamander, Great Basin rattlesnake, barn owl, peregrine falcon and yellow crab spider.

The second set features a mountain goat, greater sage grouse, mountain lion, Great Basin collared lizard, red fox, pronghorn antelope, red-tailed hawk, American avocet, Kanab ambersnail, Bonneville cutthroat trout, Townsend's big-eared bat, Columbia spotted frog, rubber boa, Great Salt Lake brine shrimp, black-capped chickadee and Utah prairie dog.

The idea in the beginning was to help make residents, especially youngsters, more aware of the animals found in Utah, the areas where they are found, and their particular habits.

"The first set of cards was so popular," said Vos, "we decided to print a second set. Originally, they were intended for use in schools and Project WILD, but they are available to anyone."

After the printing of each series, 1,000 sets were donated to Utah schools.

But the cards are simply one of the tools being used to promote Utah wildlife through Project WILD.

Project WILD is directed at teachers of kindergarten through high school and is intended to capitalize on the natural interest people have in wildlife.

To gain the background, teachers register and then participate in a nine-hour workshop, which can earn them a class credit at Utah State University. Along with educators, Vos said the instruction is a benefit to people from resource agencies, Scouting leaders and public and private conservation groups, "and, really, anyone working with young people or people who want to learn more about wildlife."

"Since we started the program back in the early 1980s, we've trained more than 11,000 teachers. Our numbers are starting to drop a little. There's a lot of competition for teachers' time right now.

"Also, because of certain factors we've had to charge ($17) for the workshop to help pay for the teaching manuals."

Part of the registration fee includes two manuals, each one intended as an activity guide.

The "Project WILD" guide contains 113 activities and the "Aquatic WILD" guide contains 40 activities. A third manual for students in grades 9-12, called "Science and Civics: Sustaining Wildlife," was recently printed. It has 350 pages of activities and resources.

All of the activities in the manuals are designed around a lesson-plan format, which gives instruction objectives, methods of teaching, background information, the references available, a list of materials needed and ways to evaluate students.

According to Bill Andrews, national director of Project WILD, the activities are intended to teach one or more of the following concepts:

Awareness and appreciation of wildlife.

Human values and the wildlife resource.

Habitat and ecological systems.

Wildlife conservation.

Cultural and social interaction with wildlife.

Environmental issues and trends, alternatives and consequences.

Ecological systems and responsible human actions.

The objective is to train teachers through Project WILD and then they, in turn, can return to classes and teach students.

"It is intended to make young people more aware and have a better understanding of wildlife and, hopefully, have a sense of stewardship that they take with them through life. With this, as they grow up, it is our hope that they have a desire to care for wildlife in their communities and elsewhere," he noted.

"Conservation of natural resources is important. It's critical that students learn about animals, but also the habitat needs for those animals. It's also important they learn about the conservation of our natural resources and how important it is to manage those resources properly. There is a much greater need today for sensitive-based habitat work and wildlife management.

"This is one of the best wildlife-learning programs in the United States, and even the world. We've done 39 different studies to make sure this is a quality product that we are giving to teachers and students, and they all assure us it is helping kids understand wildlife at a conceptual level."

Through the Utah program, those registering for the class receive the two manuals, a subscription to DWR's "Wildlife Review" magazine containing a Project WILD wildlife education article, posters, correlation to Utah State Core Curriculum, Utah-specific materials developed to meet the Utah State Core Curriculum and access to an extensive resource library of videos, wildlife resource trucks and other wildlife education materials.

The two guides teach about wildlife using various activities.

There is, for example, a game kids play that teaches them about the evolution of aquatic animals, like bugs, ducks and frogs.

Another teaches them to identify characteristics of animals found in various ecosystems, another allows them to compare the growth pattern of adults and bears, and another has them list and organize needs of people, pets and wildlife.

For information about Project WILD and the photo series contact Diana Vos at the DWR offices, 801-538-4719 or reach her on the Internet at DianaVos@utah.gov.


E-mail: grass@desnews.com