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GA Hillbilly makes an excellent point in his post on the insect study MB, that many (most?) scouters are really not well equipped to identify trees and animal signs, let alone to teach kids to do the same. This is certainly something I've noticed.


How to fix this? Well we could reach out to more professionals for help with an occasional meeting or outing. We could, for example, invite the local forestry service guy or gal to assist, or the local park ranger, or someone who hunts and actually knows a thing or two about animal signs, or that guy who has a tree farm up the road. For adults, we could invite these same types of folks to come to a Round Table, to University of Scouting, to a district camporee, etc, and teach US.


Instead what I see in a lot of troops and packs, is that the parents decide that they'll just bone up on things by reading a page or two ahead in the scout handbook or downloading something off the web real quick, and off they go as the nascent "expert." Ugh. Often times it is due to ignorance of local resources. Sometimes it is due to sheer laziness. Either way, "fake it til you make it" is a horrible lesson to teach our kids.




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Since when does an individual need to become a professional naturalist to be competent in an area of study??? Anyone can become competent in the identification of the various facets of nature if they take the time to study and prepare and most of all use good resources. There is no need to become an "expert."

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Our Council has a three fold program.

1) For camp honors each year, the Scouts need to be able to identify

15 plants/trees, 4 constelations, and 10 insects for Year 1,

25 plants, 6 constelations and 10 birds for Year 2 and

35 plants, 8 constelations, and 10 or 15 mammals.

4th and 5th years are required to handle leadership positions, like teaching the younger ones.


2) Camp offers a 3 hour naturalist program for youth and adults the first two sfternoons at summer camp.


3)Camp also offers the Burroughs Award, which is three tiered, bronze, gold and silver.

This is for the hard core people,

50,75,100 plants either prebloom, in bloom post bloom

20,25,30 birds by sight or call

20,25,30 constelations (all of it, not just the major part of it) and or stars and planets by sight,

10,15,20 rocks or minerals

20,25,30 wildlife (mammals, aquatic, insects).

The numbers may be off a little. Evert tear there are a couple of people who manage to achieve one of the levels, especially staffers.

They have amatuer botanists, foresters, college prof's, etc. involved in Scouting and have the time to come out to camp run the Burroughs program.


I haven't went for the Burroughs Award yet, almost went for the Bronze this last summer. I probably need a few more years yet to have the plants down pat.

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I don't think the problem is people needing to be expert naturalists in order to lead units into the woods. The biggest problem is people have a very hard time saying the three most difficult words in the English language: "I don't know". The second biggest problem is one that has been infered by others - the "little bit of knowledge makes one dangerous" approach.


I am a Naturalist - some would call me an "Expert" Naturalist because my undergrad degree is in Environmental Education with an emphasis in Outdoor and Experiential Education. If you were to take me along with your Troop through habitats I'm most familiar with - mostly from Illinois Oak-Hickory Forests and Tallgrass Prairies to the Boreal Forests of the north (Minnesota to Maine) with stops along any of the Great Lakes, or the Maine Coast of the Atlantic Ocean, I would be able to identify most things seen from experience and memory.


Put me in the desert Southwest, or the Pacific Northwest, or the Southeastern swamps, and while I'll know some of it, you'll more than likely hear me say "I don't know - let's look it up".



I cringe when I'm walking a local trail behind a Cub Scout Den or Boy Scout Troop and a leader points out Virginia Creeper and calls it Poison Ivy, even if Poison Ivy plants are 2 feet away. At the same time, I know that the leader is just doing their best with whatever information they've been given, or think they know.


Given that many adults have a problem with admitting they don't know anything to youths, and a related problem of learning with youth (I think that adults often take their units to familiar places so they won't seem to be starting off on the same level as their charges), I have a few suggestions on how to fix this.


To start, at every training, and as often as possible, we need to repeat to each other that it's ok to say "I don't know what kind of (plant, bird, insect, animal, rock, etc.) that is - but let's both try to remember what it looks like so we can look it up when we get back". At Roundtables, set aside maybe 10 minutes of every meeting for a mini-presentation on identification of things - it can even be a "show and tell" kind of thing, with a different person doing it every month - and I'd include a once per year refresher on Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac. Speaking of the "poison plants", when talking about them, bring up look-a-likes and act-a-likes. Even though Virginia Creeper doesn't look anything like Poison Ivy (it has 5 leaves), it is a vine as Poison Ivy can be. So we should show what other plants commonly mistaken for the Poison's can be. At camporees, set up adult leader only nature hikes, so that adult leaders can explore and learn in a non-threatening environment while the Scouts are out doing their activities. Same thing can be done at Summer Camp. And as has already been suggested, take advantage of the naturalist staff at parks that you do go to - just hang back and listen.




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I am constantly tickled by the opinion of some on this forum that learning something by reading is "faking it". If learning by reading is so bad then why have libraries lasted for centuries?


AS far as the opinion that 'many or most scouters are ill-prepared to teach nature studies', generalizations like that have little value. It is true that Scouters who have prapared poorly will be ill-prepared, but whether that is many or most would be impossible to measure.


But let's look at what a ANY leader can do. There are some wonderful nature resources available to all of us to use for nature study. Camping and book stores are well stocked with excellent pictorial resource books for identifing and giving great information on Bird Identification, Mammal Identification, Plant and Tree Identification, Reptile Identification, Insect Identification. There is no need for the leader to try and be an expert when expert resources such as these can be the experts.


If the scouts sight a bird they don't recognize then have them grab the resource book and teach them to use it so that THEY can learn to identify the bird themselves.


There is no reason for any leader to think they need to be an expert in everything that scouts can experience and learn about. There are a world or expert resources surrounding us, the role of the leader is to help scouts discover these resources and learn how to use them.


There is no shame in learning things by reading. it s a great place to start learning any skill, then yo can go out and practice and apply the skills in order to gain greater expertise.


(This message has been edited by Bob White)

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe Lisabob was saying that book learnin' is "faking" anything. I understood part of her point to be that she's encountered many an adult with only superficial knowledge of what they profess to be an expert in. As CalicoPenn reminds us, that little bit of information can be dangerous.


ASM915 - I love the idea of the Burroughs Award. Is that at Seven Ranges, in the Buckeye Council?


Personally, I enjoy (sarcasm alert) talking with Scouters who say Wilderness Survival should include living off the land, eating nuts, berries and plants, small game, etc. Sure, sir, go ahead... you just take the first nibble of that "parsnip root," and I'll be right behind you.

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Perhaps a little knowledge can it be dangerous but it isn't always, nor does it always have to be, and to generalize that it is is erroneous.


What is wrong with a leader who breaks open a book and goes into a situation with more information than he or she had before? The only danger is if they try to teach beyond that knowledge. But there is no reason to believe that most leaders do that.


Remember that we teach BASIC skills, and that there is training available to prepare every adult leader to be able to either teach the skills, and to find resources to teach the skills. One of those resources are the books available on those subjects.


LisaBob absolutely suggested that a leader who tries to learn a little more about a topic is in some some way doing a slapdash job with the topic and that is unsupportabl as a general statement of fact that she presented it to be.


Certainly you would have to agree that it is better to have leaders with some knowledge than none at all, is it not? To criticize leaders who try to improve their knowledge make no sense.(This message has been edited by Bob White)

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7R it is. When were you there?


And speaking of parsnips, don't forget about Wild Grapes and Canadian Moon Flower. We outpost in Calumet for sumemrcamp. We have had Wild Grapes growing next to the pavillion for years, so we thought. This year one of the staffers was over for a visit and noticed the Moon Flower growing on the opposite side of the road. The leaves the first year a distictly unique. The second years growth, the leaves are identical to the Wild Grape, growing on a vine with fruit that looks just like Wild Grape. But guess what? The berries will kill you. Good thing we never tried the Wild Grapes, in reality they might be Canadian Moon Flower.

I guess there is a reason the Wilderness Survival MB has a requirement about whether or not to eating wild plants.

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Lisabob, in addition to the contentious method of 'reading' to learn something, I also would like the forum to know that there is no need for BSA to reinvent the wheel. Many states, if not all, have a program called Master Naturalist that is available to anyone interested in attending the training. They are taught by practicing professionals who come in to offer short, intensive instruction in their specialty. I have helped teach these and the individuals who 'graduate' are well-enough trained (and armed with books and papers that must be read) to be able to instruct other members of the public. I have also noticed that the individuals who complete the training are usually teachers or retired folks who want to volunteer to help the public. They would be a wonderful resource for anyone wanting to find competent MB counselors for the nature-based merit badges or as leaders for nature outings. That was a hint, BTW.


I think GaHillBilly's comments on leader knowledge are correct. I also think the deficiencies could be addressed through...nod to Bob White...training - Master Naturalist training.

Google it with your state name and see if there's a program available. If not, then perhaps you can stimulate an interest in such a program through your local department of natural resources.


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Thanks for the lead, pack. I hadn't heard of that type of program before, and will spread the word.



Eagletrek, I'm sorry if you thought I was saying people must be professionals to do anything related to nature. I did not mean that, but what I did mean is that people should be more cognizant of their limits. Rather than pretending to know something, people ought to recognize that hey, this isn't a strong suit for me, and maybe there's a specialist in the area who could really help the boys learn a lot more. Instead, some adults seem to think they need to be know-it-alls just because they're adults.


Bob White, I am in no way suggesting that reading is a poor method to learn something. If you want to continue to get all huffy about that and misinterpret what I said, go for it and have fun, but that's not what I intended at all.


Reading is great. Libraries are wonderful. Resources should certainly be used and adults should not be afraid to say "well I'm not sure, let's look it up!" Books do not make a 100% substitute for hands-on experience though, and wise adults know where book knowledge of a subject stops and practical application of that knowledge in the real world begins. Case in point: I heard a show on NPR about mushrooms the other day. The fellow they were interviewing has written a well-known guide to identifying edible vs. non-edible fungi. He cautioned people by pointing out that mis-identification based on superficial knowledge (even with a book in hand) is easy and happens all the time, frequently with life-ending consequences. In some cases it gets down to the level of "what color are the spores?" which you cannot determine just be looking at the general shape and color of the mushroom. He went further to point out that some fungi are poisonous raw, but fine if cooked. Now most of us, I hope, know better than to go out and nibble on the shrooms if we aren't really, really certain of what we're doing. A little book learning here might be good but it certainly isn't what I want to rely on when you decide what to eat for dinner that night.


I have seen people who can't identify the difference between a maple and an oak grabs a book (or these days, prints off a quickie guide from the web) and hauls a bunch of cub scouts or new boy scouts off on a nature hike. Now I'm not bashing hiking here either, getting kids outside is nearly always a good thing and for the most part, hiking (short distances, good weather) isn't rocket science and it can be easily done by most people.



I went on a hike one time with a guy like this. He decided that a bunch of kids in that troop needed to do the nature ID and the 2nd Cl 5 mile hike, so he'd combine the two and lead them (yes, he is an adult, telling the boys "you're going to do this." So much for boy-led.) That fellow then proceeded to kill any spark of interest the kids had in both hiking and in identifying what they saw, by methodically ticking off, as we marched (single file), "that's a aaa, that's a bbb" etc. Not only that, but he was WRONG most of the time. His goal was to get 'er done and look like he know what he was talking about, not to help boys explore the wonders of nature and use a book as a resource. No, he set himself up as THE authority, all on the basis of a book in his hand and a printed list from the web that he distributed at the start, telling the boys what 10 trees they would be seeing that day. Some of those trees would be quite rare in my part of the country. It was rather obvious this guy had no idea what he was talking about.


Now I know you'll complain that he was just one case and clearly poorly trained or not trained (actually I checked, this fellow had NLE, OLS, troop committee, and SM fundamentals or whatever the classroom version was then called). True, it is just one person. But I have met too many others like him, especially in cubs and working with younger boy scouts at the first three ranks. For these types, they think that just picking up a book makes them an instant expert and they're doing a real dis-service to the kids.



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LisaBob you wrote that "that many (most?) scouters are really not well equipped to identify trees and animal signs, let alone to teach kids to do the same."


Now it seems that your generalization is based on watching a TV show and a bad day hike with a particular leader. That hardly establishes a trend that many of most Scout leaders model a "fake it till you make it" approach to nature study as you have declared.


To bash most of 1.2 million leaders based on your limited knowledge of what "many or most" leaders do, and on your very limited exposure to the situation is an unfair and inaccurate representation of the program and its leaders.



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I worked in Ohio for about five years, but I've never been to Seven Ranges - it just came up after a Google search for the Burroughs Award. It sounds like a program worth stealing.... err, borrowing. :-)


I find it fascinating, in a horrifying sort of way, that Scouting has two stances on consuming wild foods.


From the Boy Scout Wilderness Survival merit badge: "Explain why it usually not wise to eat edible wild plants or wildlife in a wilderness survival situation."


From the Venturing Ranger Award Wilderness Survival core requirements: "Explain the usefulness and drawbacks of obtaining food in the wilderness, including things to avoid. Prepare and eat at least one meal with food you have found in the outdoors."


Yes, I know that Venturing and Boy Scouts are two separate programs; yes, I know the Ranger Award is designed for a higher level of skill proficiency than merit badges. But since the Venturing model is based on outside consultants, there's no firm standard.

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If everyone on this board avoided generalizations about leaders, Scouts, councils, districts, professionals, the OA, Venturing and summer camps because they haven't interviewed a majority of the 1.2 million leaders out there, the only forum that would be thriving would be Issues & Politics. (And yes, that is a sweeping, overly-broad generalization - for the purpose of making a point.)


For what it's worth, many if not most of the Scouters I have encountered in my neck of the woods would fall under what Lisabob describes. (And that includes me! I can cover the basics, but I know enough to know that I don't know everything.) The folks who really like going outdoors and whose units have a good, active outdoor program are interested in pioneering, backpacking, watersports. Conservation and ecology are relatively low on the list of areas of expertise.


FYI, NPR is radio, not TV.

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I've seen many instances similar to the one Lisabob described (and GaHillBilly for that matter). But my observations are confined to this region. I'm willing to entertain the possibility that Yankees are better at natural history. :)


Edited part: OK, as long as the 'shroom thing has, well, pushed up from its mycelium, I really like the story of Amanita muscaria. If you just eat a little, the poisonous alkaloids merely cause hallucinations. Siberian shamans at one time would 'do' these 'shrooms and in order to prolong the experience, they would collect each other's urine and drink it thus recycling the alkaloids. Mmmmmmm.


My favorite is the one that you eat accidentally (the deadly webcap), then days or weeks after it is too late, the symptoms set in and renal failure concludes in a horrible, writhing-in-agony death. Is that COOL or what?

Better yet, they're easily confused with and in the same habitat as chantarelles. 'Shrooms are way cool.

Bon Apptit!


Hey, no problem. I DID say that, Bob. But thanks for telling me to do what I already did anyway.(This message has been edited by packsaddle)

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If the scouts in your community have poor outdoor skills then say that. But to transfer the characteristics or failing of the few local leaders you know to all the leaders in the nation, or even to most the leaders in the nation, based on such minimal evidence is a sloppy generalization at best.


Sorry, I should have said radio program when pointing out her minimal exposure to any evidence that a problem exists with many or most leaders in the BSA when it comes to teaching about nature, not a TV show.



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