Southwest Region Members Wowed by Wetlands Education

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A middle school 4-H member removes a ring of bark from a Chinese tallow tree. This process, known as girdling, was part of the invasive species removal service project during the Wonders of Wetlands camp at Palmetto Island State Park. Photos provided by the 4-H Youth Wetlands Program

Branson Melancon.

Branson Melancon’s passion for the wetlands combined with his desire to teach others made for a successful Wonders of Wetlands (WOW) camp, a one-day experience held for 4-H members in the Southwest Region parishes. Melancon, an Acadia Parish 4-H member and a Louisiana 4-H Wetland Ambassador, had a vision for this camp.

“After being a proud member of the Wetland Ambassadors Team for two years, I wanted to do something special for my senior year,” said Melancon. “Part of the team’s responsibilities is to find and/or plan outreach events. I’ve done many [events] but wanted something grand, so I went about the process of planning this camp.”

Partnering with Catherine Fox, the Louisiana 4-H Youth Wetlands Program assistant specialist and Wetland Ambassadors Team adviser, and with the support of his parish 4-H agents, Kayla Segura and Megan Sarver, his vision for the event became a reality. Twenty-eight seventh and eighth graders, along with a dozen 4-H teens and 11 adult volunteers and 4-H agents, enjoyed discovering the wetlands at Palmetto Island State Park in Abbeville, Louisiana.

“It’s been amazing to watch Branson grow as a leader and become more confident in his abilities as a Wetland Ambassador to the point where he was ready to lead and plan a large, regional 4-H event,” shared Fox. “He worked hard to get to this level and did an excellent job of organizing this event from creating activities for it to recruiting other wetland ambassadors and collaborating with everyone on logistics.”

Through Melancon’s initiative and leadership, 4-H members from Terrebonne to Cameron Parish were immersed in interactive lessons and hands-on activities led by the Wetland Ambassadors on a warm June day.

“The education of our state's youth on the matters affecting our state is a key component in helping to build the next generation of leaders and advocates,” Melancon said while discussing why programs like this are important. “When you can find a way to appeal to youths' interest on issues through direct involvement you see a noticeable upward trend in the amount of information learned and understood.”

Participants went on an alligator egg hunt where they learned how to properly collect alligator eggs and then released the correct percentage of hatchlings back into the wild. Participants also learned about one of the benefits that wetlands provide by making wetland filter models to demonstrate how wetlands can purify water. Participants also enjoyed a nature walk and canoeing.

The day also included a service activity as participants worked to remove invasive Chinese tallow trees.

“I did lots of cool stuff like canoeing, alligator egg hunt, and a bunch of other stuff, and I think it was a good time,” one camper shared.

Lots of fun and learning occurred at the camp as evaluation data showed that the campers’ perceived knowledge increased by 42%.

“When looking back at the numbers from the pre/post-test and seeing the increase in knowledge, not only from the participants but also the counselors and adult volunteers, it makes me proud to see that the engagement was at all levels,” Melancon said. “The issues surrounding our wetlands in Louisiana is a topic I am passionate about, to the point where I am seeking higher education in this field, and I was able to share this passion with so many others. That is where I am proudest.”

Catherine Fox sees the value of this type of programming effort and hopes it continues.

“It’s important to offer hands-on programs in the wetlands, so that youth can see and apply what they are learning immediately,” Fox said. “The value and impact of being able to learn about something like invasive species and then immediately go work on a service project to remove invasive species is huge and allows youth to not only retain that information but develop a fuller understanding of it for the long-term.”

Melancon’s parish 4-H agents shared that giving back to 4-H is nothing new for him.

“Branson’s commitment to the 4-H program from the local to state levels has impacted the lives of numerous volunteers, agents, and especially his peers,” Segura and Sarver noted through a joint statement. “This is just one more extraordinary thing that Branson has given the program.”

Catherine Fox contributed to this story.

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4-H members press seed-filled clay into soil to create wildflower seed bombs during the Wonders of Wetlands camp at Palmetto Island State Park.

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Wetland Ambassador Emma Bush points out a tree while leading a nature hike at Palmetto Island State Park during the Wonders of Wetlands camp.

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4-H members canoe across a pond at Palmetto Island State Park during the Wonders of Wetlands camp.

3/8/2024 7:48:21 PM
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