Moving wildlife knowledge and skills out of the classroom and up against real-world challenges, the Virginia Tech Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society will host the Southeastern Wildlife Conclave this week at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Education Center at Smith Mountain Lake.

Drawing students from some 20 regional colleges and universities, the March 12-15 event will be packed with presentations, speakers, workshops, field trips, and competitions of physical, intellectual, and artistic prowess. All activities relate to the wildlife education curriculums of the participating institutions.

“As the host institute for the Southeastern Wildlife Conclave, students from Virginia Tech have the rare opportunity to gain experience in planning, organizing, and running a large meeting of professionals,” said Joel Snodgrass, head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “Our students will begin to build their professional networks at the meeting as they engage with wildlife students from other universities throughout the southeastern U.S.”

Approximately 400 students representing their respective student chapters of The Wildlife Society will gather at the 4-H center at Smith Mountain Lake. With events ranging from brain-centric to brawn-centric and creative to culinary, each chapter will have an opportunity to compete against its peers.

Contests include identifying and keying out botanical and biological specimens, demonstrating proficiency with rifle and bow, maneuvering an obstacle course with speed and agility, navigating an orienteering course, and fielding challenging questions in the marathon-session Quiz Bowl. With more than 25 different ways to amass points, every participant has the potential to contribute.

“There is quite a bit of competition at the conclave, but it’s all in good fun,” said Emily Ronis of Herndon, Virginia, a senior wildlife science major in the college and the conclave chair. “The schools are ranked at the end of the weekend based on their overall performance in all events, with most schools vying for one of the top three spots.”

All events, lodging, and meals will occur on site. The conclave features 16 workshops run by graduate students and faculty as well as professionals from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, U.S. Forest Service, Conservation Management Institute, and other organizations.

“Hosting the conclave showcases the organizational and creative abilities of The Wildlife Society at Virginia Tech,” said Associate Professor Marcella Kelly, the chapter’s advisor. “I am so impressed with our students.”

The Virginia Tech group has been working for months to plan and organize the event. Although rules prohibit the host chapter from participating in the competitions, the Virginia Tech students will maintain an active presence in every aspect of conclave as they work together to staff, judge, and facilitate the event.

“Staging an event of this size requires dedication, passion, and a desire to satisfy the more than 400 students, faculty, guest professionals, and volunteers who will be attending,” said Ashley Lohr of Purcellville, Virginia, a senior wildlife science major and president of Virginia Tech’s chapter of The Wildlife Society. “We have some exciting workshops and field trips scheduled — a visit to the Black Bear Research Center, a falconry workshop, trapping demonstrations, a venison cooking workshop, a behind-the-scenes tour of Mill Mountain Zoo, a wildlife photography workshop, and more. The days will be very busy, and at the same time, incredibly fulfilling.”

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