There is about an acre of land around the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, on the grounds of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
But on Monday, it ballooned, thanks to the Stock Show’s 4H and FFA Wildlife Management Contest, which challenges competitors to answer questions about how to control the use of and nurture natural resources.
“This area represents a 1,000 acre habitat just outside the Fort Worth city limits,” reads the instruction sheet the competitors receive for the Wildlife Habitat Management, in the outdoor portion of the two-part test.
“They have to apply observation skills, evaluation skills and critical thinking. And, of course, they have to have a strong base of information in their heads,” said Larry Hysmith, a superintendent for the event, in its second year. “Kids get a chance to understand what wildlife are about. There are also green spaces that require us to think about how we manage those, whether they are in the city or in the rural areas. So it gives them that connection.”
The 62 competitors, ages 9 to 18, answered questions about a particular habitat and the wildlife (both animal and vegetable) that lives on it. Their Monday answer sheets asked them, for example, whether the BRIT habitat, which features a small pond, various grasses and plenty of trees, has enough “snags” to attract ladder-backed woodpeckers (snags are dead trees that could potentially provide those birds, and others, with homes and food).
“I try to make sure the kids learn something and continue their appreciation and stewardship of natural resources,” said Hysmith, of College Station, who is the 4H natural resources program leader for Texas. “When a kid has gone through [the 4H program that is the basis of the competition] and they are finished with the project, they’re little junior biologists.”
There is also an identification and knowledge test conducted indoors. On 15 tables are pictures of wildlife, and actual pelts and antlers. The students move from table to table and answer questions such as how many offspring the animal typically produces in a year, what it eats, how it can be attracted to or driven from a habitat and even how fast it can move. In other setups, the competitors might be asked to identify animals belonging to tracks, bones or droppings, and answer questions about their habits and needs.
Hysmith said another intent of the competition is to encourage students to be more aware of ecological issues of all types and in all situations, whether they are involved in agriculture or live in the heart of a city.
At least two competitors said they are putting their competition knowledge into practical use.
“It has really helped me a lot, especially since we have moved to 40 acres where we want to start attracting different native species and get rid of nonnative species of animals and plants, such as red cedar,” said Anna Raabe, 18, of Valley View, north of Denton. She won the Houston Livestock Show’s version of the competition last year. “It has helped me learn how to get rid of the overgrowing, nonnative grasses that we have there, using prescribed fires to burn them out and making room for new grasses.”
John Philip Jones, 16, of Waller County, near Houston, took a fourth in the 4H’s national competition in West Virginia last year and said that the skills developed in these competitions have allowed him to help make improvements on his family’s ranch land.
“We want to attract hunting species and create a particular area that is a deer haven,” said Jones who, like Raabe, is home-schooled. The knowledge gained in competitions “allowed me to start planning a food plot, know when to plant it and how big it needs to be.”
The effort put in to develop the knowledge required to do well in the competitions paid off for both competitors Monday. Jones won the blue ribbon, and Raabe finished sixth in the event’s senior division. The students also compete as pairs, and Raabe and her sister, Clara Raabe, took top honors in that division.
The Fort Worth Stock Show continues through Feb. 4 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, Lancaster Avenue and University Drive, just west of downtown.
Details: 817-877-2400 or www.fwssr.com. Mobile apps are available for Apple and Android devices.
Grounds admission: $10 for adults; $5 for children 6-16; free for children 5 and younger
Rodeo tickets: $28 on Friday nights, weekends and some special events; $20 on weekdays. Rodeo tickets are good for general admission to the Stock Show the same day. Discounts are available for grounds admission and rodeo tickets for Star-Telegram Press Pass holders.
Advance tickets: The office, at 3401 W. Lancaster Ave., is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; 817-877-2420.
Parking: $10 per vehicle
Take the Rodeo Redline: On Saturdays and Sundays, visitors can take $5 shuttles — called the Rodeo Redline — from the parking lot just north of Billy Bob's Texas in the Stockyards. Buses run every 30 minutes, 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays.
Information booths: In the main concourse of the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall and the Richardson-Bass Building. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Friday and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday.
Shopping: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Friday and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturdays in the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall and Brown-Lupton Exhibits Hall (north and south).
Dickies Day: Anyone wearing Dickies apparel will receive free general admission to the Stock Show grounds.
8 a.m. Brahman Cattle Show – Watt Arena – West Ring
8 a.m. NCHA Cutting Horse Classes – Justin Arena
8 a.m. Other Purebred and Brown Swiss followed by Jersey Dairy Cattle – Junior Show – Cattle
10 a.m. Beefmaster Cattle Show – Watt Arena – East Ring
1 p.m. Holstein Dairy Cattle – Junior Show – Cattle Arena
5 p.m. Longhorn Cattle – TLBAA World Qualifying Open Show – Watt Arena
7:30 p.m. Bulls’ Night Out – PRCA Extreme Bull Riding – Coliseum