A new partnership between Mississippi State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's APHIS Wildlife Services program has made the university home to a national training academy.
On Friday [Aug. 26], MSU President Mark E. Keenum and USDA APHIS Wildlife Services Deputy Administrator William H. Clay signed a "Resolution for Collaboration" to create a national training academy housed at Mississippi State. APHIS – the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – provides a wide range of functions, including protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically-engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act, and carrying out wildlife damage management activities.
The Wildlife Services National Training Academy, or NTA, is the country's first academy dedicated to training, instruction and safely resolving human-wildlife conflicts and safety-related risks. The academy, headquartered at Mississippi State in the Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts, can train up to 1,200 service personnel of USDA's Wildlife Services currently tasked with responding to human-wildlife conflicts across the U.S.
Keenum said the partnership highlights MSU as a national leader in the emerging field of human-wildlife conflicts.
"Our Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts is the first of its kind to host such a training academy among research-oriented land grant universities specializing in finding resolutions to these conflicts, through research, education and outreach," Keenum said. "This partnership broadens our reach, providing essential training to those personnel in the field every day formulating resolutions to human-wildlife conflicts."
Human-wildlife conflicts occur in all 50 states and cause an estimated $22 billion dollars in damage annually to agricultural crops and man-made infrastructure. That number will only climb as human and wildlife populations continue to increase.
Human-wildlife conflicts present an intricate challenge. Personnel responding to conflict often must consider multiple factors and provide a solution in a short span of time, sometimes within a setting that potentially could pose safety risks. For that reason, training is paramount, according to Clay, who has served as deputy administrator of the USDA APHIS Wildlife Services since 2000.
"In many cases, professionals in wildlife services are first responders in these scenarios. Ongoing and consistent training in human-wildlife conflicts at the national level promises to provide these professionals with the tools they need to continue to serve in this capacity," Clay said. "For decades, Wildlife Services has worked to build a trained and professional workforce. The National Training Academy will further promote a culture of excellence in wildlife damage management by integrating and enhancing safety, communications and administrative and technical skills."
The comprehensive, standardized and integrated training program will include in-house and regional training in the form of workshops, seminars, field instruction and web-based learning. USDA Wildlife Services personnel will be able to track their training certification and performance. With a USDA Wildlife Services liaison on site, MSU will serve as the physical and virtual home for human-wildlife conflict training, outreach and continuing education for USDA Wildlife Services employees. Carefully-selected regional training sites will include USDA Wildlife Services' National Wildlife Research Center field stations and other land-grant institutions with training capabilities and linkages to USDA Wildlife Services.
The MSU Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts, housed in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, is a partnership between the university's College of Forest Resources, Forest and Wildlife Research Center and Extension Service, as well as external partners including USDA APHIS Wildlife Services and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. For more information, visit www.humanwildlifeconflicts.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi's leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.