By Jon Wangnild
Special to the Rio Blanco Herald
Don’t think that the local game warden is only busy during the fall hunting seasons. Spring is an especially busy time of year for the district wildlife managers of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Wildlife managers can be found this time of year visiting with fishermen along the White River, checking spring turkey hunters and spending time doing presentations at area schools. Helping educate young people about wildlife is a priority for wildlife officers in Colorado.
Local district wildlife managers are talking with kids as young as preschoolers about wildlife. The 4- to 5-year-old students learn about animal skulls like black bear and beaver, see elk antlers and bighorn sheep horns and learn about animal signs like tracks and scat. The DOW goals are simple — to build respect for and curiosity about wildlife in the minds of kids.
Education efforts don’t stop at preschool. Local wildlife officers participate in the elementary school “Pioneer Days” every year. Students learn about how early settlers benefited from and also struggled to exist with wildlife.
DOW has also participated in “No TV Night” at Meeker Elementary. Students learn the basics of “carrying capacity” — how many wild animals habitat can support. Students practice what they have learned by playing a game. Some of the students take the role of mule deer, others mountain lions or motor vehicles. The “deer” are tasked with trying to find index cards representing food while trying to avoid “mountain lions” and “vehicles.” Wildlife officers referee and regulate the amount of available food. The students quickly learn about the challenges local deer populations face.
At Craig Middle School, DOW participates in the annual Yampatika Bio-Region at Cedar Mountain. There, sixth-grade students are taken on a field tour to learn about the wild animals that use sage and pinyon-juniper habitats.
Conservation — defined as the wise use of resources — is another top education priority for DOW. Because hunters and anglers still support the majority of all wildlife management through license purchases, the challenge to keep sportsmen in the field is ever present.
Local wildlife officers are also instructors for area hunter education courses, where they teach topics including hunting and fishing laws, ethics and safe hunting practices, wildlife management and outdoor survival. Weekend courses are offered in the Meeker area throughout the year and Hunter Education is part of the sixth-grade curriculum in Rangely.
Days in the field are also part of the DOW effort to educate youth. In early June, DOW and the U.S. Forest Service host Kid’s Fishing Day at the Meeker park. DOW also hosts a Family Ice Fishing Day at Lake Avery each winter. Fishing program participants learn fishing techniques, proper equipment and about the aquatic insects fish like to eat.
Another popular event is the White River “Cast ‘n’ Blast,” a joint effort with the local chapter of the Outfitters’ Association. The annual event for women and youth focuses on developing basic fly fishing and shotgun shooting skills.
DOW also offers several beginning hunt opportunities for women and youth including pheasant, turkey and female pronghorn, deer and elk. The hunts are successful because of the support of local private landowners and outfitters who offer quality places to hunt.
As the state population becomes more urbanized, the DOW is using educational models like these to teach young people statewide an appreciation of wildlife. Learning about skulls and “carrying capacity” might not make every student into a hunter or angler, but district wildlife managers hope that eventually this new generation will understand the importance of sound wildlife management and the role that hunting, fishing and private landowners play in managing the tremendous wildlife resource that belongs to all of us.