Wildlife students at Missouri Western win international award

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ST. JOSEPH, Mo -- From banding birds at sunrise to late-night rides with conservation agents, extra work is paying off for members of The Wildlife Society Student Chapter at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.

The chapter will receive the 2011 Outstanding Student Chapter Award from The Wildlife Society in November at the organization’s conference in Hawaii.

“We were pretty ecstatic,” said Wyatt Jackson, 22, a senior and chapter president from Adrian, Mo. “Knowing that we’re the first Missouri student chapter to get this award, it’s pretty amazing.”

The Wildlife Society is an international group with 10,000 professional members working in wildlife management, most in the United States and Canada. But the group also has chapters at colleges to help students get a start in the field.

This is the first time a student chapter in Missouri has won the award, confirmed Shannon Pederson, a program manager at The Wildlife Society headquarters in Bethesda, Md. The award signifies that the MWSU chapter, with almost 50 members, has the strongest program out of 119 student chapters.

“I’m very proud of them,” said Cary D. Chevalier, chapter advisor and a biology professor at the college. “These students make things happen for themselves and they do it by interfacing with practicing professionals.”

On a recent morning, students helped tend mist nets to capture songbirds that were identified, weighed and noted for a data base on bird migration used by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Students also assist with white-tailed deer research projects and fish sampling conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). Members serve as naturalists and teach students at MDC's Northwest Region office in St. Joseph. All chapter members become certified as instructors for the Department’s Hunter Education program.

“They may not hunt,” Chevalier said. “But they’ve got to understand the clientele and how they feel, and they’ve got to learn to speak to the public.”

Chapter members provide valuable help to wildlife projects and conservation, said T.J. Peacher, MDC conservation education supervisor.

“They get their hands dirty,” Peacher said. “They’re down in the weeds working with us.”

Another key to success is chapter members helping and supporting one another, Jackson said. The chapter’s field work also gives students a chance to test a career in conservation by doing actual field work.

“A lot of people find out they really do love it,” he said.