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West Texas Students Bring Home Top Prizes in Horned Lizard Essay Contest
AUSTIN, Texas — If you want to find horned lizards in Texas, go west. If you want to find winning student researchers and writers, you also need to look west of IH-35. West Texas schools produced all the winners in this year’s Hometown Horned Toads essay contest, sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Leading the pack was Childress High School, where Russell Graves’ Advanced Wildlife Science class won the High School Team division for a second time. According to Lee Ann Linam, contest coordinator, "The Childress High School students really captured the essence of the contest-using the recollections of local residents and data about the local community and ecology to provide insight about why Texas horned lizards have declined in their hometown."
Graves believes that participation in the contest also allowed his students to gain valuable research skills. "I think that the horned toad essay contest has allowed my students the chance to take a community approach to solving the mystery behind the Texas Horned Lizard’s disappearance. Through interviews with citizens throughout the community, analysis of county highway and cropland data, and the study of why the reptile is plentiful on the school’s land gave all of the students a chance to work as a team in order to search for a relevant answer to this pressing issue."
The essay contest this year attracted 70 entries, representing the work of 137 students and data from 15 counties around the state. Students used interviews with local residents and researched local records to hypothesize when and why the popular Texas horned lizard, or horned toad declined in their communities. The majority of the winning essays suggested that the official state reptile began declining in the 1970s and 1980s with population growth, red imported fire ants, decline in harvester ants, and pesticide use suggested as the major causes of decline. Childress High School also used local records to hypothesize that increases in traffic, increased pesticide application as part of the boll weevil eradication program, and loss of open ground in the Conservation Reserve Program may have decreased the prevalence of horned lizards in Childress County. All of the essays suggested that horned lizards do still live in their communities.
Judging criteria for the contest include thoroughness of investigation, number of people interviewed, number of local written sources accessed and quality of presentation, including historical perspective, scientific analysis, neatness and creativity. Submissions were judged by participating organizations, including TPWD’s Wildlife Diversity Program, Texas Historical Commission, County Historical Commissions, and the Horned Lizard Conservation Society. Individual winners received an outdoor learning kit including such items as Geographic Positioning Systems, binoculars, field guides, and magnifying lenses, while team winners have been offered a chance for a field trip to a TPWD Wildlife Management Area.
Winners in other age categories included:
Grades 3-5 Individual:
- 1st place — Will Tindol — Hillander School, Midland
- 2nd place — Heath Holland — Windsor Elementary, Amarillo
- 3rd place — Zachary Carter — Hillander School, Midland
Grades 3-5 Team:
- Amy Cristiani, Norma Jean Crockett, and Amy Cristiani — Hillander School, Midland
Grades 6-8 Individual:
- 1st place — Jase Ball — Llano Junior High, Llano
- 2nd place — Rainy Edwards — Llano Junior High, Llano
- 3rd place (tie) — Olivia Hutto and Julia Hebert — Llano Junior High, Llano
Grades 6-8 Team:
- Rebecca Ator, Chrissie Bingham, Derek Brabson, Marcus Foust, Adan Hernandez, Chelsea Ketchum, Kendra Massie, Shandi Nelson, Kayla Patterson, Seth Riddle, and Ashley Strickler — Lipan Junior High, Lipan
Grades 9-12 Individual:
- 1st place — Valerie Brooks — Andrews High School, Andrews
The essay contest is an extension of a popular monitoring project called Texas Horned Lizard Watch. Since 1997, citizen volunteers have provided scientific data about the status of the state reptile to TPWD. Volunteer data has begun to shed insight on patterns of distribution in the state, along with important habitat data.
Linam, who also coordinates Texas Horned Lizard Watch, said TPWD also values the insight that the essays can provide. "The Texas horned lizard, or horned toad, is truly a Texas treasure. Much valuable information about their history is stored away in people’s memories. We believe this essay contest is helping us better understand how to preserve this species, while connecting children to a real symbol of Texas folklore."
The contest may also offer students the chance to better understand their own communities. Amy Inman, a senior at Childress High School stated, "I really enjoyed participating in the Horned Toad Essay contest. The research we collected was like a window into Childress 20-50 years ago. While reading the compiled information, I began to realize how much our hometown and the surrounding rural area has changed. Horned Toads are not the only wildlife being affected by our growing economy. I sincerely hope that through contests like this, my generation can learn from past generations’ mistakes, so in the future we can better preserve our wildlife."
For more information about the Hometown Horned Toads essay contest, visit the Web (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/htht/). For more information about how to join Texas Horned Lizard Watch for the next monitoring season, call (800) 792-1112, Ext. 7011.
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