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DNR offers conservation workshops
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Georgia Project WILD is a conservation-education program designed to inform and educate anyone interested in protecting wildlife and the environment, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website.

Sponsored by DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division and the Georgia Chapter of the Safari Club International, Project WILD provides quality instruction through a variety of workshops around the state. These workshops include Project WILD Educator Workshops, Project WILD Advanced Workshops, Project WILD Facilitator Workshops, Outdoor Wildlife Leadership School, Growing Up WILD Workshops and Flying WILD Workshops.

Rusty Garrison, program manager at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center and state coordinator for Project WILD, said the workshops are designed train learners of all age groups and walks of life. Special efforts, however, are made to reach the next generation.

“Children used to be connected to the out-of-doors,” he said. “When I was a child, we spent every possible moment outside. Today, however, children spend most of their time in front of an electronic screen. They have lost touch with the environment.

“Couple that with the fact that urban sprawl is rapidly taking over wildlife habitats, and we realize that conservation education is a must,” he continued. “If the next generation does not understand the environment, why would they care about protecting it?”

Garrison said the “WILD” in Project WILD used to be an acronym that stood for “Wildlife in Learning Design.” The acronym was dropped, but WILD continues to be spelled in all capital letters.

He said Project WILD teaches students about wildlife and wildlife habitats with hands-on activities. It’s a nationally accredited program in which students learn about habitat and what he called “limiting factors” — ecology and the environment. All this is done while students are being taught basic school subjects such as math, science and language arts, he said. In the program’s 20 years, more than 19,000 Georgia educators have completed WILD workshops.

“Project WILD is not just for teachers, but all educators,” he said. “We have K-12 classroom teachers attend our workshops as well as home-school parents, Scout leaders and nature-center personnel. In addition to the Project WILD program, we also have a Growing Up WILD program designed for 3- to 7-year-olds and a Flying WILD program designed for middle-school (students).”

Garrison said teachers who attend a Project WILD workshop use the instruction and resource materials to supplement their classroom subject, allowing a specific Project WILD activity to reinforce a subject already being taught.

Project WILD program guides are flexible and can be used in a variety of ways. He said some teachers use the workshop guides as a basis for their particular science program. Colleges use guides as part of their teacher-education curriculum, he said. The workshops equip teachers to teach children to understand the importance of maintaining habitat through prescribed burns and wildlife management, he added.

Two of the most popular workshops are the Teacher Conservation Workshop and the Outdoor Wildlife Leadership School. These weeklong workshops are conducted primarily at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, although students also gain an intense exposure to forestry and wildlife by visiting timber operations, lumber mills and a variety of wildlife habitats. He said teachers earn three professional-learning units per workshop, which cost $50 and include room and board at the Wildlife Center along with instruction materials.

Garrison said DNR instructors are available to conduct six-hour Project WILD workshops in local schools across the state with a minimum of 10 educators participating for $25 each. The registration fee includes terrestrial and aquatic WILD guides. He said DNR also conducts three-hour “Growing Up WILD” workshops for $20 and “Flying WILD” workshops for $15.

Educators interested in hosting a Project WILD workshop in their school can call Garrison at 770-784-3059.

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