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At Home in the Woods: Project Wild

Fri, Jan 3rd, 2003
Posted in Columnists

When I arrived at the Depot building in Lanesboro one day last October, Don Ward, Lanesboro historian, was already talking history with Carrol Henderson, Supervisor MN DNR Nongame Wildlife Program, and Adele Black, curriculum collaborator on the Project Wild Program.

Project Wild is an international, interdisciplinary program designed to provide educators with tools they can use to teach students about wildlife ecology and management. The goal of Project Wild is to assist learners in developing awareness, knowledge, skills and commitment that will result in informed decisions, responsible behavior, and constructive actions concerning wildlife and the environment.

DNR employee Jan Welsh is in charge of the project in Minnesota. She organizes 50 teacher workshops a year related specifically to the natural history of the state. Adele Black's part of the project is Minnesota Wild Words, a program designed to teach students how to keep wildlife journals. The journals of Minnesota naturalist Dr. Johan C. Hvoslef will play an important part in this program.

Dr. Hvoslef, a native of Norway and a Lanesboro physician from 1876-1920, kept daily records of his wildlife observations in and around Lanesboro. His records of Minnesota's early natural history have become a standard by which we can compare the status and behavior patterns of the same species today.

His earliest journals (1876-1898) are in Norwegian. In 1898, he began writing in English. I have been transcribing and entering the English journals into electronic form, a project I expect to complete within one year. A translator is ready to begin translating the Norwegian journals as soon as my project is complete.

Carrol Henderson called our meeting to talk about Lanesboro history and discuss how we can collaborate with each other on the Project Wild Program. At my suggestion, he invited Don Ward to join us. Don's presence was invaluable. Not only did he supply photos and answer questions on Lanesboro history, he graciously took us on a tour of Lanesboro describing the historical significance of various places and buildings.

Since our meeting, the book "Lanesboro Minnesota, Historic Destination," Arcadia Publishing, Chicago, 2002, by Don Ward and Ted St. Mane has been published; it will also be an important source of information for Minnesota Wild Words.

Students participating in Minnesota Wild Words will gain an in depth understanding of phenology (the study of seasonal movements and changes in the natural world) by reviewing the 1898-1908 spring journals of Dr. Hvoslef and by keeping their own journals.

In lesson one, teachers will take students outside to a place where they can return once a week throughout the spring to make their observations. Students will write or draw in their journals what they see, hear, smell and feel as they spend time in their observation places. They will record the date and place, including the type of habitat and the weather conditions.

Teachers will give students copies of the Southern Minnesota Spring Phenology packet featuring the Hvoslef diaries. They will compare the month and day of their own observations with the same month and day of Dr. Hvoslef's observations and draw conclusions from the differences and similarities. They will look for patterns in the dates, wildlife behavior and occurrence.

In lesson two, students will return to their observation spots and record their observations again. They will learn how to identify species by both their common names and Latin two-part names (first name is for genus, second is for species). They will focus on what species we have in common today with the species present during Dr. Hvoslef's time; what species we do not have in common; and possible reasons for their occurrence or disappearance, then and now. They will apply knowledge from the data in determining how Minnesota's wildlife has been affected by man's presence and land use practices.

Students will discuss the value of Dr. Hvoslef's diaries to people today and in the future; the value of their own journals; and the value of other Minnesota naturalists who have contributed to the state's natural resource enhancement and protection through their journaling. Finally, teachers will encourage students to continue journaling beyond the school year.

Use of the Hvoslef journals in the Project Wild Program and continued DNR sponsorship of the translation and transcription of the journals, show Carrol Henderson's commitment to the project even in a time of extreme budget cuts. Area residents can be proud of having Dr. Hvoslef's locally and even nationally important work as part of their history.

Nancy Overcott Route 1, Box 104, Canton, MN 55922 507-743-8584 bigwoods@acegroup.cc

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