Evaluating an Extension program: the Texas 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program
Feldpausch, Andrea Marie
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In times of heightened environmental consciousness, conservation education programming has proven useful for providing information and promoting natural resource conservation and stewardship. In a study of the 2005 Texas 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program (WHEP), a contest teaching youth about the fundamentals of wildlife science and management, I sought to determine if WHEP was successfully reaching its primary goal: promoting conservation by increasing knowledge and skills of youth in the wildlife field. Through a series of facilitator-led interviews with WHEP participants (n = 35) and a combination of internet and on-site surveys (consisting of 35 current participants, 22 control youth, 19 past participants, 25 parents, and 7 coaches obtained from program registration lists), I explored the influence of program participation on wildlife management knowledge, social and leadership skills, attitudes, and understanding of stewardship. I found that WHEP had a significant impact on knowledge of wildlife management techniques and ecological concepts. The program had little influence on attitudes because most youth had positive perceptions of natural resources management prior to program involvement. I also found that past participants of WHEP claimed a significant increase in skills after program participation, but current participants could not determine their own progress. This suggested a longer period of time was needed to gauge self improvement. Parents and coaches claimed the program had a large impact on youth through instilling knowledge and values, but also improving their social, cognitive, and leadership competencies. Adults also discussed issues with participation, including a lack of program expansion and support. From these results, I determined that WHEP was achieving its program goals, but needs to address the issue of expansion because of its low level of operation compared to other 4-H programs in Texas. Suggestions for program growth include targeting youth groups and counties, cross promoting with other conservation programs, and continuing recruitment in currently participating counties.