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Youth Forum "Rocks" Sevilleta NWR
Southwest Region, April 20, 2008
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Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico hosted the first-ever Youth Forum for the Environment April 18 - 20.  The Forum supported the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's initiative for Connecting People with Nature.  Thirty-four middle- and high school students from ten groups across the four-state region, their instructors/sponsors, and several parents joined refuge staff, University of New Mexico researchers, and special guest biologists to showcase the great things young people are doing to protect the environment where they live.  In doing so, they presented a broad range of activities young people are taking on: Habitat restoration, wildlife surveys, the pet trade and its effects on wildlife, the importance of playa wetlands to society, and how schools benefit from outdoor classrooms.  Service biologists focused on endangered species protection and management in presentations about the Mexican gray wolf, sea turtles, and bats.

Regional Director Dr. Benjamin Tuggle had the distinct pleasure to address the group with a keynote speech on Saturday.  He also presented a plaque for outstanding service to Sohini Bandy, a Girl Scout who worked on restoring habitat for the endangered Jollyville salamander in her hometown of Austin, Texas.  Then Ms. Bandy was surprised with a signed letter of commendation from the President of the United States, George W. Bush, congratulating her on her accomplishment.  She earned her Gold Award, the highest for a Girl Scout and equivalent to the Boy Scout's Eagle Award, for this project.

But it wasn't all scientific!  The youth helped restore a recently-built outdoor classroom on the refuge by planting grass and shrub seeds.  They then turned their energies on clearing a foot trail of limbs and brush.  The resulting piles were burned in a demonstration by the USFWS New Mexico Fire District's crew headed by Fire Management Officer Chris Wilcox.

The group managed to have tons of fun with a local high school marimba band blasting out native music from Zimbabwe, sung in the Zulu language.  Needless to say, the rugs were rolled up and the dancing pulsed with the lightning-fast beat.  To cool down afterwards, ice cream filled the bill, and a "star party" brought everyone back to Earth.  The students returned to their hometowns with a new image of the USFWS, and a renewed committment for doing "green" things.

Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov



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