Numerous area sportsmen's organizations, clubs and dedicated individuals do an excellent job of exposing youth to the joys of outdoors activities.
This exposure can range in scope from target shooting to hiking to boating to hunting and just about anything else that falls in between. Of all the topics that traditionally hold the interest of Pennsylvanians of all ages, whitetail deer and trout would be near the top of the list.
For youth between the ages of 14-17, the Wildlife Leadership Academy offers two five-day camps that focus on deer and trout that are designed to turn participants into ambassadors for wildlife and fisheries conservation.
Qualified teachers at both camps serve as adult mentors for the educational programs that focus on wildlife conservation and leadership development.
In its mission statement, the WLA states its goal is to empower youth to become ambassadors for wildlife conservation to ensure a sustained wildlife legacy for future generations.
Participants attend the separate five-day field schools and apply their knowledge through year-around service and outreach in their communities.
Two field schools are offered, with the first being the Pennsylvania Bucktails, which focuses on whitetail deer and will take place at Stone Valley Recreation Area in Petersburg, Huntingdon County, Tuesday-Saturday, June 18-22.
Pennsylvania Brookies focuses on brook trout and coldwater fisheries and will take place at Sieg Conference Center in Hermitage, Clinton County, Tuesday-Saturday, July 9-13.
WLA is a cooperative initiative led by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education, with instructors from government agencies, nonprofits and universities. Among those providing instructors are Kutztown University, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania State University, Quality Deer Management Association and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"The high caliber and sheer number of conservation professionals who are involved as instructors in this program are beyond impressive, but more than that is the commitment of time, energy and passion that each of these instructors gives to the students," ecologist and instructor Lisa Smith said. "Participants learn about wildlife and fisheries biology, habitat management, research techniques and nature photography through classroom and field experiences.
"They develop communication and leadership skills through team-building activities, educational presentations and mock town hall meetings. One participant described the program as "life-changing," saying he was able to reach his full potential and find a career path that he feels will be very rewarding and it was an experience he would cherish and remember the rest of his life."
Field schools prepare youth to conduct service and outreach relating to environmental education, wildlife and conservation biology, art and/or media engagement.
Each participant commits to completing at least three service and outreach activities during the year, and participants who complete the most are rewarded with field trips, opportunities to return as mentors the following year and college scholarships.
To date, WLA graduates have conducted more than 600 service and outreach projects, engaged in more than 2,500 contact hours with the public and reached an audience of more than 10,000 Pennsylvania citizens across 46 counties in the state.
One participant gave an educational presentation to the Conservation Officers of Pennsylvania Association and wrote an article for the organization's magazine "The Greenline."
WLA director Michele Kittell said the youngster said she was surprised by how accomplished and proud she felt after completing each outreach activity, whether it was speaking to a crowd of 200 or finishing up another entry in her nature journal alone in the woods.
One COPA member said the article and oral report reassured the organization and others that there are intelligent, interested, dedicated and understanding young people who are preparing to step up and carry on in our efforts to promote and safeguard Pennsylvania's precious fish, wildlife and other natural resources.
"We hope these youth will inspire others to care more and therefore act more on behalf of the environment," Kittell said. "Participants are the next generation to speak for wildlife conservation."
Field school applications are available on the Web at http://www.piceweb.org/ , and applications must be submitted by Monday, April 1. For more information, contact Michele Kittell at mkittell@ piceweb.org or 570-245-8518.