Wildlife Leadership Academy Experience

Do you like the outdoors? Do you enjoy nature? How about hunting, fishing, hiking or shooting? If so, read on – this article is for you!

Hello! My name is Elizabeth Bruner and I am a 15-year-old 4-H member from Indiana County and lifetime member of the PNGA. I first joined 4-H as a 5-year-old cloverbud and began what is turning out to be an awesome learning experience. Some of my projects have included market and breeding goats, textile sciences and fashion revue, horses, horticulture, dogs, and anything to do with nature! I’ve been a member of the Outdoor Adventures 4-H Club for several years now and enjoy wildlife, forestry, and shooting sports projects.

It’s these topics that led me to experience an incredible opportunity last summer called Wildlife Leadership Academy. WLA’s mission is to engage and empower youth to become Conservation Ambassadors in order to ensure a sustained wildlife, fisheries and natural resources legacy for future generations. WLA is for 14-17-year-old high school students who have a passion for wildlife. They offer week-long intensive field schools that focus on particular topics, those being: Bucktails, or white-tailed deer; Drummers, or Ruffed Grouse; Gobblers, or Turkey; Brookies, or Brook Trout; and Bass. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend bucktails and drummers field schools.

Even though my time at field school was short, it was intense! We were up at the crack of dawn every day, learning all about wildlife. My favorite activity by far was the necropsies. The PA game commission veterinarian, Justin Brown, dissected a doe and taught us about the different systems of the deer and how they all work together to create this unique animal. We were able to explore the different parts and identify them as well as tell whether or not the organs were in healthy condition. We also got to use radio telemetry to practice tracking the deer. We examined and aged deer fetuses and sexed and aged deer by their teeth and on foot. One of my favorite things we did at drummers was a nature walk close to dusk. We stopped at a clearing in the middle of the forest and stood very quiet watching and listening for an American Woodcock. It was right before dark when a woodcock flew right above our heads! It was a remarkable experience I will never forget! Each field school includes classroom style teaching as well as work in the field. We took nature hikes and every day we learned 4-5 plants that wildlife would use for food, cover, or both. Then we had tests to see how many plants we remembered! Some other things we did throughout the field schools were habitat evaluations, shooting on the range, nature journaling, plant pressing, and so much more. We were taught by the best field professionals (like Gary Alt) who were so knowledgeable!

Once field schools were over, students do outreach and talk to the public about WLA by giving presentations, doing radio interviews, teaching skills to others, creating art projects, and much more. WLA then offers scholarships, reference letters of support, and further opportunities in their organization to expand young people’s educational pursuits.

I am so thankful for 4-H that led me to the opportunity to experience the Wildlife Leadership Academy which very well may have led me to my future career path. I’d encourage any teenager who is interested in nature or the outdoors to explore WLA!

Elizabeth Bruner

Conservation Ambassador
Wildlife Leadership Academy class of 2018