Week 3 started off with a multi-site field tour with the local agricultural extension agents. 2 nice ladies from the Crawford County office walked us through how dairy and beef operations curtail their waste management systems to avoid water quality and wetlands degradation, spoke out soil friendly farming implements such as the no-till planters, and described how short-rotation grazing management can be used to manage for native warm season grass communities. The last aspect was probably my favorite though we learned a lot at each stop.
The main message was how to get agricultural producers to still care about wildlife and wildlife habitat. Federal subsidies through programs like the Farm Bill and the Conservation Reserve Program got their roots through concerns over soil erosion and water quality, but have blossomed into full spectrum conservation programs ranging from field borders for bobwhite quail to wildflowers for pollinator habitat.
Later on that Monday, we were able to conduct some wildlife necropsies back at the field station. I had the local game warden on alert for a fresh road-kill and he came through in flying colors. A student salvaged a Canada goose from the roadside as well. It was amazing to see how the different students interacted with the experience – some keeping their distance, others getting right in there…literally.
There is lots to talk about while taking apart a deer or a goose…diseases and how to test for them, how to estimate condition and health from a variety of diagnostic indexes ranging from kidney fat to breastbone protrusion, how to age the deer, how to sex the goose, differences in avian versus ruminant digestive processes, and a host of other interesting things.
With Monday pretty well gone, we made plans to complete data collection for our various research projects and spend the rest of the day in the computer lab entering data and using GIS to extract some more landscape/habitat variables to conduct our analyses. This was great experience for the students and several really took to the GIS software while others got excited about statistics…yes, they got excited about statistics.
This continued on into and consuming all of Tuesday as well. By that evening, every group had gotten mostly through their data analysis and went on about the business of interpreting their results and beginning to write term papers/develop project presentations which were both due on Friday.