Even City Youngsters Can Enjoy Activities With The 4-h Club

Posted: March 22, 1987

One of the best things that happened to me as a youngster was joining a 4-H Club. I learned to cook, ride a horse, practice Red Cross lifesaving and grow radishes.

At a 4-H camp, I became a banquet for monster mosquitoes; I was fat, homesick and unable to tell a beech leaf from a boulder during interminable nature walks. Yet I remember that camp better than most of what happened while I was growing up.

The same resources exist today. But people tend to think of 4-H as a rural activity for children who aren't cool, or with it, or whatever they call gaucherie these days. Not so.

For example, the city of Philadelphia isn't exactly horse country, yet the 4-H Club program offers membership in two groups for young people interested in riding and care of horses. Both meet on Saturdays; the Roxborough club, headed by James Burgess, meets at W.B. Saul High School, 7100 Henry Ave.; the Sensei Riders, whose leader is Olivia Dorsey, meet at Cobbs Creek Riding Academy at 63d and Catharine Streets. For more information, call the 4-H office at 276-5166.

In Montgomery County, Sandra Sweeney leads a 4-H Club whose members raise puppies that later will be sent to nonprofit groups that train guide dogs for the blind. The children take pups into their homes and nurture them until they are old enough to go for training.

The separation may involve some trauma for youngsters who become attached to the dogs. I understand, however, that this soon is assuaged by a new pup's coming into their homes for a stay of about a year. There also are seven 4-H horse clubs in Montgomery County. For information on groups in this area, call 489-4315.

These activities are mentioned only as examples of the opportunities of creative fun available through the 4-H program. Groups throughout the area have similar programs. To locate these clubs, call the county extension agent, listed under U.S. Department of Agriculture in the telephone book.

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The wolf, from which the dog probably is descended, is an endangered species in the United States. The animals were slaughtered by farmers, hunters and government trappers until, by the 1920s, most wolf populations in the West had been exterminated.

Now the government is trying to return the wolf to some of its natural habitats. However, recent efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce the Mexican wolf, the smallest gray-wolf subspecies, into the wild have provoked criticism from hunters and big-game guides, who worry that the wolves will reduce the number of deer and other creatures needed for the pleasure of hunters.

Livestock interests already are pressuring state game departments to resist wolf replacement in the wild. "We're going to make criminals out of a lot of ranchers," warned Denny Gentry, head of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. "They'll kill those . . . things as fast as they go out."

The last Mexican wolves in the Southwest live in zoos in Albuquerque, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz. The last known U.S. specimen at large was killed in 1975 when a trapper collected a $500 bounty that Arizona ranchers had put up for a last lone wolf they said was killing their livestock. About 50 wolves may exist in the wild in Mexico, but heavy hunting and trapping make their survival unlikely for long.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is searching for empty mountain and desert terrain where Mexican wolves could be released. It may be several years before wolf-recovery teams can turn captive-bred animals out to freedom in the Southwest.

In the East, the agency hopes that this spring it can release four pairs of red wolves at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the coast of North Carolina. There they could roam freely across the 170,000-acre refuge on a peninsula near Cape Hatteras.

North American gray wolves have survived in Alaska's wilds and along the Canadian border in Minnesota. Wolves from Canada have moved south and are reoccupying Glacier National Park in Montana. And the National Park Service is drafting plans for restoring wolves to prey on fast-growing elk and bison herds that threaten Yellowstone National Park's ecological system.

Most environmental groups agree that the government will have to control wolf populations. They accept that wolves will be killed if they start preying heavily on livestock.

"It's a matter of convincing people to let the wolves be," said Norma Ames, leader of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Mexican wolf-recovery team. ''But if we say, 'Don't release any wolves because some will be killed,' then you're denying the whole subspecies the chance for existence."

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