From Capstone to Curriculum
By: Iris Picat
Did you know that invasive feral pigs have been reported in at least 40 of the 50 states?
This past month, Robert Cox, recent Online Master of Natural Resource graduate, was personally invited to attend a writing workshop organized by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and Project Wild. The workshop was centered around creating a feral hog curriculum based on one of the recommendations in his paper titled “Potential Impacts of Increased Feral Pig Populations to Virginia’s National Forests.”
He first contacted VDGIF while seeking a capstone topic dealing with wildlife, which is when the in-house biologist Aaron Proctor told him about the colossal amount of time he had to spend dealing with feral pigs, which damage habitat and outcompete native species. Thus began Robert’s research for his graduate capstone project paper.
Hosted at False Cape State Park, in Virginia Beach, the workshop included five educators, three biologists, an education coordinator, and a representative from the VA Department of Education. It focused on how to enlighten younger children to the challenges this non-native species brings to natural resource management.
“We don’t want to preach to the students that feral pigs are bad, but we do want to give them the information necessary to let them come to that conclusion on their own,” says Robert.
The first half of this three-day workshop was spent with the wildlife biologists explaining and showing the educators the damage these animals make, even looking at tracks and droppings. This helped provide the educators with a better understanding of the issue and thus what should be incorporated into the curriculum. The second portion of the workshop was spent creating an outline for the curriculum unit and partitioning out segments to be developed in the upcoming months by each member of the team.
Robert completed an undergraduate degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia (UVA) and has been teaching for the past eight years, currently a Earth Science instructor for Orange County High School. This is his first time working on curriculum development and says that “to really be helpful in this process, I’d have to be passionate about the subject,” which thankfully in this case he is.
Tentatively scheduled to be wrapped up in April, the curriculum will be made available to all the schools in Virginia. The ultimate goal is for complete eradication of feral pigs in Virginia and beyond, but it “will be a minor success if we at least get the population to stop growing first,” Robert says.
As an avid hunter and fisherman, he also has a personal tie to wanting to get these pigs under control. Once full grown, they do not have any predators, damage habitat for other native species, and prey on eggs of quail and other nesting birds.