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Our Illinois 4-H Story

Engaging youth in conservation: Changing strategies


Last spring I was on the Urbana-Champaign campus at the University of Illinois and heard that familiar “honk” of a Canada goose. I was nowhere near any water source that I knew of, but I know what a momma goose sounds like when she is rounding up her brood to march them to a destination she thinks is in their best interest.

She sounded off again and I pegged her location….directly over my head on top of a 3 story brick building! She had chosen this flat topped roof high above the ground to hatch her new family. She was completely safe from most predators with her new “high off the ground” strategy and yet now it was time to get them safely down to ground level.   

I watched as she went first to the turf and then encouraged them one by one to take the faithful leap. Each one spread their downy, plump bodies and landed “plop” on some highly manicured grass turf and they all gathered together and all marched happily away. I personally had not seen this nesting strategy before but I found it fascinating.  

It occurred to me later that my position as a 4-H youth development staff person for U of I Extension is basically doing this same type of thing. We’re both trying to raise a new generation but with different strategies to reach the same end. For example….many Illinois 4-H youth used to connect to the outdoors and learn about nature during the work they were a part of being raised in a rural environment. But now, with less rural population levels and even less physical labor now needed on a farm (few youth have bucked hay bales or walked soybean fields in recent years) – we are connecting youth to the outdoors with recreation strategies instead of work.

In a recent talk I gave to the 2023 Illinois Soil and Water Conservation District state conference, I explained our Illinois 4-H strategy of connecting youth to the outdoors through “sparking” their interest in a life-long recreational hobby. For example, to foster an adult that cares about water quality….offer quality sport fishing programs in 4-H that entice youth to fall in love with this life-long hobby. Fishermen care about the lakes, rivers, and ponds which they hold dear and will fight to pass them on in good shape to the next generation.   See you at the lake, momma goose.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Curt Sinclair is the 4-H Youth Development Extension Specialist for Shooting Sports and Environmental Education. He received his B.S. in Forestry from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 1982 and his Master's in Recreation Resource Administration from North Carolina State University in 1988.