Cumberland Times-News

September 29, 2012

No batteries needed, just bones et al

Dave Long
Cumberland Times-News

— All right gentlemen, if you will pay attention I am going to give you the opportunity to straighten up your trophy room, make some points with your wife and help a good cause.

Members of the Mineral County Future Farmers of America annually participate in a competition called the Envirothon. This statewide event is sponsored by the West Virginia Conservation Agency and is pretty much what the name implies. It is an academic competition that requires the students to have an understanding of and appreciation for the principles of conservation that lead to a balance between a good life and a healthy environment.

There are five basic categories in the Envirothon. The topics are aquatics, forestry, soils, wildlife and a current environmental issue, which in the 2012 competition was stormwater runoff.

My understanding is that the competition is pretty fierce and I know for a fact that the students spend a ton of time in preparation for the April event.  The past two years I have had the opportunity to work with the Mineral County group in the area of wildlife identification and management.

The Mineral County team is mentored by Julie Sions, FFA advisor and teacher at the Vocational Technical Center in Keyser. Sions is dedicated to the topic and her students. The students pick up on that dedication as they prepare for the event. They placed eighth overall in the state this year.

These are good kids. Typical teenagers all, but ones who have an interest in things other than just cell phones and iPods, and each with his or her own desire to achieve excellence.

Now, where do you fit into this picture? Well it is simple. In studying wildlife identification it is always helpful to have hands-on experience to supplement the book learning. Fortunately, during years of outdoor living I have acquired a motley collection of bones, furs, feathers etc. that I take in to let the kids study. The West Virginia DNR also has some materials that they lend out just for this purpose.

But my collection is by no means complete, and the DNR stuff can be pretty tied up in the spring when students in every county are preparing for the Envirothon.

We have decided to put together our own collection of wildlife specimens. An educational aid that will be available at all times for the students to use and to have for years to come.

So, you say you have some tanned fox and coon hides out in the garage?

How about that mounted brook trout that your wife hates, or the tanned copperhead skin that she really hates? If it has fins, fur or feathers and is in reasonably good shape I am asking that you consider making a donation of that item to the Mineral County FFA to help these kids learn about something that does not take batteries.

We need tanned hides of furbearers, clean skulls of almost any wildlife, grouse tails, owl pellets, maybe some shed antlers or shells from a hatched turkey nest. In short, almost any of the things we outdoorsmen carry out of the woods with us at the end of the day.

It would be really, really cool if someone out there has a collection of plaster casts of animal tracks that has been sitting around for years that they don’t know what to do with. Here is a hint, we’ll take it.

If you think you have a specimen or outdoor item that would help these students in their quest for knowledge of the natural world then I would love to hear from you. I have set up an email account just for this purpose at dlongwildlife@hotmail.com, or if you prefer to use the phone there is a voice mailbox at 304-790-1392.

Hopefully enough of you out there have good stuff to get rid of that will help establish our collection of study materials.

We will be glad to make arrangements to come pick up donated items. Thanks.

Dave Long is a retired West Virginia natural resources police officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page. His article about hunting ducks on small streams appears in the October issue of Fur-Fish-Game.