AN INTRODUCTION TO NATURE
6th Annual Notice Nature Field Day for Duval County 7th Grade Students
By: Judy Jurek
Young minds are impressionable. From an early age into budding adulthood, the most simple words or actions may have a lasting effect on a young person’s entire life. Seventh grade students are generally 11-13 years old. They may or may not yet have a clue as to their future but they are at a period in their lives when young inquisitive minds are open to learning new things each and every day.
Sammy Guerra is the District Conservationist for the Agua Poquita Soil and Water Conservation District #321. Upon transferring to the Freer area, Guerra met with the local United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) whose desire was to educate youth about conservation. At the same time Guerra toured the Temple Ranch where a new flood control structure had just been completed. It gave him an idea.
“I came from a county that had an ‘Ag in the Classroom’ day. I proposed bringing youth to a ranch to see for themselves actual things that make a ranch work,” said Guerra. “Many kids notice nature but have no idea why a tractor clears brush or realize that there’s more to hunting than just a big buck.”
“That’s how it got started six years ago. The reason we chose seventh graders is that it’s right before their high school years. They’re not quite as busy as they may be once they hit high school.” Guerra added it is a time to open their eyes to different possibilities other than the normal career days. Thus the Duval County Notice Nature Field Day for seventh grade students was created. It would encompass youngsters attending Freer, Benavides, and San Diego schools.
Daniel Kunz is a Technical Guidance Biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s South Texas District. He was on the original planning committee for the Duval County Notice Nature Field Day. Kunz said each one has been a great experience, both fun and educational not only for the students but the adults participating as well.
“Basically we felt seventh graders were the right age to introduce them to nature. They are at the age to be excited about the outdoors,” said Kunz. “I present a program called Animal Adaptations. It goes through different South Texas wildlife species and how important their habitat is to each. Many species are represented by skulls and skins.”
Kunz continued, “The kids seem to be really interested and ask good questions. Most have been exposed to the outdoors but may not know how to read tracks or recognize the more common wildlife species, and even some exotics, that we have here in South Texas. They’re at the age where it may make a difference in their future.”
Sponsoring and hosting this year’s event was the G4 Ranch at Freer. “The Temple Ranch hosted the field day for five years but it sold. We were contacted and enthusiastically jumped on it,” said Leo Martinez, Ranch Manager. “It was really good. We’re rural out here and many of the students have been raised in this stuff yet others have no clue. A lot of the students don’t ever have the opportunity to go on a ranch. They don’t know what goes on behind a high fence. Many believe a ranch is 5, 10, 15 acres.”
“It’s kind of amazing. When they step off the buses they are loud. But when they’re broken into groups and an adult starts their presentation, the kids quickly get silent and pay attention,” chuckled Martinez. “There were many presentations. The Pasture-to-Plate had a live steer; the various cuts of meat were pointed out. There were soils, grasses, brush, wetlands, waterfowl…it all ties in together.”
“I was asked to talk spontaneously so I wasn’t prepared. I grabbed a skull with antlers and told them how to score a deer, then talked about breeding and hunting for twenty minutes. A lot of youngsters never get the chance to hunt but the Notice Nature day does more than talk about hunting. It demonstrates and discusses ecology and conservation.” Martinez said, “They interacted a lot. It’s an intense one day.”
A former science and math teacher, Rosalva Campos has been the Freer Junior High Principal for three years. She’s been involved with the Duval County Notice Nature Field Day since it began. “I believe this is an extremely important educational tool. We have such a variety of wildlife in South Texas as well as ranching. This day presents so many different things that interest the students. Learning the background of whitetail deer, it is amazing how engaged the kids get. They know they can ask any question and they will get an answer.”
As with most events and activities regardless of the type or purpose it would not be possible without the combined efforts of many.
A special thanks to Sammy Guerra and Administrative Assistant Mandy Walters of the Agua Poquita Soil and Water Conservation District #321 for their input, time, and effort planning and putting the field day together. Much credit goes to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) and all the folks from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Duval County ISDs, and Texas A&M Corpus Christi Center for Coastal Studies who put on displays, demonstrations, and helped out in numerous capacities.
Great appreciation to the G4 Ranch and Ranch Manager Leo Martinez, active TDA members, for graciously furnishing the locale this year as well as being able to make last minute changes due to the weather. G4 Ranch assisted in the donation of backpacks to all students.
Additional gratitude goes to TDA member Dr. Scott Bugai, DVM, of Seguin for taking time from his busy practice to travel to Freer. His knowledge and services performing a whitetail necropsy and answering a wide variety of questions during hands-on deer anatomy exploration was the day’s highlight for many youngsters.
Thank you to independent biologist and consultant David Smith for his devoted time and energy putting together a program on plant identification.
Numerous sponsors also helped with the field day in a variety of ways. They are (in no particular order): Paraiso Ranch, Capital Farm Credit, Piedras Pintas Ranch, 7 C’s Whitetails, Prukop Farms, Rancho Talisman, Heath A. Jauer, Killam Ranch Properties, Salinas & Sons, Gist Kinsman Ranch, Doggett Family Foundation, Madera Bonita Ranch, Rebel Ranch, and Record Rack.
The Texas Deer Association was thrilled to be a part of the Duval County Notice Nature Field Day. Creating and supplying a useful backpack for every participating student was a small token of appreciation. TDA looks forward to sponsoring this event, and hopefully more like it, in the future.