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Nellie Doneva / Reporter-News

Instructor Rodney Sturdivant, center, talks about hunting safety to a group of boys in the Bobwhite Brigade wildlife leadership camp at the Krooked River Lodge ranch.


High-Tech, Naturally

Teens at a summer camp learn to study wildlife with modern methods

By Darrell A. Rodriguez / Reporter-News Staff Writer
June 23, 2004

When most kids go camping, all it involves is fun in the sun.

For cadets who participated in the Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade intensive summer camp, the experience is about learning how to conduct wildlife research, building on media skills and learning how to use radio telemetry technology.

The 31 cadets, ages 13 to 17, are from different counties across Texas, and stayed at the Krooked River Lodge near Haskell. They are hoping to become wildlife researchers, and some participated simply because they enjoy hunting and the outdoors, said Alan Heirman, biologist with the Anson National Resource Conservation Service, and one of the originators of the program.

The Bobwhite Brigade is an intensive conservation and leadership summer program that allows selected applicants to
participate in several training activities, including identifying different species of plants and conducting habitat evaluations, Heirman said. The program, which started Saturday and ends today, uses laptop computers, printers and telemetry tracking technology.

Cadets study quail by attaching radio devices to the birds. They then use the radio telemetry technology to find their location. Sometimes the quail being studied are tracked to a hawk nest and all that remains of the quail is a pile of feathers, camp instructors said. In one instance, the tracking device was found in the belly of a snake.

''I enjoy learning about dissection of the quail,'' Brigade Cadet Anthony Hall, 15, of Albany said. The students not only learned about the internal organs of quail, but they also learned how to properly stuff them.

''I can't wait to do the taxidermy,'' said Brigade Cadet Ashley Ross, 15, of Albany.

In addition, cadets are trained to identify predators responsible for eating quail eggs by looking at the evidence left behind, Heirman said.

''We don't just preach hunting,'' Heirman said. ''We preach leadership.''

The campers participate in hunter safety exercises, where they are presented with a variety of hunting scenarios in the field and are asked whether they would shoot under different circumstances. They also participate in several leadership-building exercises and have competitions where their wildlife knowledge is put to the test.

The camp is staffed by about 20 adult leaders, most of whom are volunteers, Heirman said. The cadets are divided into groups named after different types of quail, such as bobwhite, mountain and blues.

The purpose of the program is to spread awareness about conservation, Heirman said.

''The idea hit me...,'' said Dale Rollins, camp coordinator and one of the originators of the Bobwhite Brigade, now in its 12th year. ''Why can't we train youth to give presentations?''

Rollins said he could give about four presentations a day to various organizations about conservation - if he had enough time and energy - but the cadets can do much more.

Cadets are required to go back to their home counties and give at least three separate presentations using what they have learned. Most give more than three, Heirman said.

Cadet Ross said she enjoyed studying embryology and witnessed firsthand the different stages of quail development. Ross said this was her second year with the program, and that she presented the information she learned last year by creating a trifold display.

Cadets are encouraged to take pictures of their various training exercises to be used in the presentations they are expected to give.

''I can't wait to get my camera developed,'' Ross said of the disposable camera she used to take pictures during the camp.

The cadets have a packed schedule and must participate in marching and cadence exercises starting at 6:30 a.m.

Not only are they intensively trained on conservation efforts, but they are also trained on how to present themselves to the media, Heirman said. They must attend special sessions where they learn how to conduct TV and radio interviews and learn other media skills, according to their curriculum notebook. That's so they will be able to present themselves well when they become professionals, Heirman said.

Cadet Hall said he enjoyed learning about seed selection and said he was looking forward to stuffing the quail. Hall said he heard about the program from a family friend, and he was seriously considering returning for a second year.

''My doctor's son came here a while back, and he said it's a life-changing experience,'' Hall said.