Louisiana 4-H’ers Learn to Maneuver Marshes

Mark Shirley  |  2/2/2017 4:26:25 PM

Mark G. Shirley

The idea for Marsh Maneuvers began 27 years ago when the Vermilion Parish 4-H Junior Leader Club spent a couple of nights at a camp on the western shore of Vermilion Bay. The expe­rience was offered to other parishes for the next few years. The program grew to involve more youths and more parishes when the camp moved to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries marine lab facility on Grand Terre Island near Grand Isle. Since then, four camps have been held each July with 16 4-H teen­agers attending each week. The opportu­nity is rotated to involve students from all parishes.

Sixty-one 4-H members from 17 parishes participated in the summer 2016 Marsh Maneuvers program. From that group, 16 students were select­ed to receive further train­ing in coastal resources by attending Advanced Marsh Maneuvers Camp in December. The winter camp has been held at the LDWF’s White Lake Conservation Area near Gueydan since 2005. During the weekend experience, the youths learn about fresh marsh habitats that are managed for migra­tory waterfowl, alligators and other wildlife. They tour the marsh at sunrise in mud boats and canoes to view ducks, geese and other marsh animals. One of the highlights of the weekend was the opportunity to view eight newly arrived juvenile Whooping Cranes.

As part of a conservation service proj­ect, the students constructed 15 “hen house” nesting structures. The hen house design comes from the Delta Waterfowl organization. The elevated nesting structure consists of a wire mesh cylin­der, packed with hay and mounted on a pole about 4 feet above the water. Delta Waterfowl has demonstrated success with nesting mallard ducks in the Canadian prairies. It is hoped that mottled ducks, which are native to southwest Louisiana and are nonmigratory, will adapt to these nest structures. The biologist at White Lake will monitor the houses during the spring to see if any ducks or other birds use the houses. The local chapter of Delta Waterfowl donated the funds to pay for the materials. The hen houses cost about $15 each.

Marsh Maneuvers is part of the 4-H Youth Wetlands Program which is funded by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries cooperates by providing the facilities at Rockefeller Refuge and at White Lake. The McIlhenny Company provides logis­tical support for the summer camps to conduct the marsh revegetation project. Support is also provided by the Louisiana Sea Grant Program.

Mark G. Shirley is an AgCenter and Sea Grant aquaculture and coastal and natural resources extension agent headquartered in Abbeville. He is the creator of the Marsh Maneuvers camping experience as well as its continuing director.

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Students construct and then place hen houses for ducks to nest in during the Advanced Marsh Maneuvers Camp in December 2016 at the White Lake Conservation Area near Gueydan, Louisiana. These hen houses are a cost-effective tool to increase the mallard duck population and are being used in the key breeding areas of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario in Canada and in North Dakota and Minnesota in the U.S. Photo by Mark G. Shirley

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Mark Shirley, left, has been conducting Marsh Maneuvers camps since 1989. In 2005, he began also offering the Advanced Marsh Maneuvers camp. Photo by Hilton Waits

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