Last year, students from 24 counties – including Berks, Bucks, Chester, Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton – participated in the Wildlife Leadership Academy.

This year, academy director Michele Kittell hopes for even more statewide representation and is accepting applications until Sunday, April 1. Applicants between the ages of 14-17 are eligible to attend one of two field schools: Pennsylvania Bucktails, which focuses on whitetail deer, or Pennsylvania Brookies, which focuses on brook trout and coldwater fisheries.

Applications for both field schools can be downloaded at www.PICEweb.org [1] by clicking on the youth programs link. Pennsylvania Bucktails will be held at Stone Valley Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Tuesday-Saturday, June 19-23, and Pennsylvania Brookies will be held at Sieg Conference Center in Clinton County, Tuesday-Saturday, July 10-14.

Expert instructors at the field schools include representatives from Audubon Pennsylvania, Kutztown University, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Penn State University, Trout Unlimited, Quality Deer Management Association and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and are designed to carry out the mission of empowering youth to become ambassadors for wildlife conservation in order to ensure a sustained wildlife legacy for future generations. This is accomplished with an intensive, week-long field school experience that focuses on a fish or wildlife species as a springboard for exploring biology, habitat and conservation issues and helping attendees develop leadership skills by engaging in team-building activities, educational presentations and mock "town hall" meetings.

Led by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education, the WLA is a cooperative initiative and brings the experts to the students. Participants are taught by and interact with conservation professionals daily.

Pennsylvania Brookies is a recent addition to the WLA and brings a fresh opportunity for youth to engage with fisheries experts, including those from Trout Unlimited. Rebecca Holler, Education Coordinator for Trout Unlimited Eastern Abandoned Mine Program, said Brookies teach youth a valuable lesson about how ecosystems function.

"Coldwater fisheries are the backbone of our environment," Holler said. "They provide the water source for most other ecosystems. Learning about them and what brook trout need teaches about the interconnectedness of life."

Students return to their community to share what they have learned and also keep a record of their conservation outreach efforts. Top outreach achievements qualify students for educational field trips, opportunities to return to field school tuition-free as mentors and college scholarships.

Academy graduates have taken the program's mission to heart, to date having conducted 522 conservation education, communication and service projects; given more than 2,000 hours of work towards these efforts; and engaged more than 10,000 Pennsylvania citizens across 44 counties in the state.

"Participants are the next generation to speak for wildlife conservation," Kittell said. "We hope the leadership of academy youth in their home communities will inspire others to care more and therefore act more on behalf of the environment."

For information about attending the Wildlife Leadership Academy, contact Kittell by email at mkittell@piceweb.org [2] or call 570-245-8518.