NCF – Envirothon Competition

April 27, 2016

Environmental Olympics were first created in 1979 in the Pennsylvania Soil and Water Conservation Districts as a way to encourage high school students to become interested in natural resource conservation and environmental issues and careers,” according to the Envirothon website. Today, Envirothon has grown to influence more than 500,000 young people across the country per year. Coach Kevin Roos of Copiah Education Foundation in Gallman, Mississippi, says, “Envirothon is great for our high school students because it gives some who have a big interest in the environment a chance to compete academically that might not normally get to compete in other academic competitions. It is a good mix of students, and they all work hard together as they learn and benefit from Envirothon.”

North American Envirothon Competition 2016

Combining in-class curriculum with hands-on field experiences, Envirothon helps students gain a scientific understanding of natural ecosystems (soils, aquatics, wildlife, forests), gives them practical experience in resource management practices and technologies, allows students the ability to apply scientific knowledge and creativity in developing innovative and sustainable solutions to major environmental challenges, and reinforces stronger communication, collaboration and problem solving skills that are so important in any career path. Envirothon is a team-based program with five students on each team who compete in five areas: soils, aquatics, wildlife, forests, and a current topic (for 2016, the topic is Invasive Species). Teams also have adult advisors (teachers, parents or volunteers) who work with the team in planning activities for the year which may include forestry field days, field trips to natural resource and wildlife habitat areas, classroom training, tree planting, presentations by local natural resource experts, or local natural resource related events.

Science Scene was honored to participate in a forestry field day with Copiah Educational Foundation’s Envirothon teams and their sponsor, Coach Kevin Roos. In an effort to help students “learn by doing,” Mr. Ricky Tyson, a certified forester, volunteered his time and efforts to work with them on forestry practices and tree identification. The day was very educational as Mr. Tyson walked through many aspects of forestry including plot centers, tree heights, board foot volumes of standing trees, effects of pine beetles, tree identification, environmental issues, and much more. This hands-on instruction helped the students associate what they were being told with what they were seeing and proved to be very beneficial to them in competition. Coach Roos also has other professionals who come out and volunteer their time and efforts in helping prepare the Envirothon teams for other areas of the competition.

In addition to soils, aquatics, wildlife, and forests, Envirothon also tests students on a current topic each year. This year's current topic is Invasive Species. Invasive species pose a serious threat to the stability of many North American ecosystems. Invasive species have been known to disrupt food webs, damage or destroy habitat and contribute to the decline of indigenous species at risk. In addition to their environmental impact, invasive species can have a significant impact on local economies; in the United States alone it is estimated that invading alien species cause major environmental damage and loss adding up to almost $120 billion per year (Pimentel, Zuniga, Morrison – 2005). Learning about Invasive Species, students see the problem at hand and can work together to be aware, help identify, and find a solution in the years to come. A book that has been important to some Envirothon teams studying for Invasive Species is “Invasive Plants” by James H. Miller and Karl V. Miller; photography by Ted Bodner. This guide thoroughly covers 330 species of forbs, grasses, vines and shrubs, with a special emphasis on the plants' role in the wildlife sustenance. 

As you can see, Envirothon helps bring an awareness to our environment and the importance of protecting it. By helping these students delve into the world around them, Envirothon is proving to be beneficial on many levels beyond the competition. Rick Wowchuck, a teacher/Envirothon Advisor from Manitoba, Canada, sums up Envirothon pretty well: “Envirothon is such a powerful program that engages students and gives them so many tools in life that are going to make them future stewards of our environment and leaders in society.” 

The 2016 North American Envirothon will be held at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, July 24th through July 29th. This national competition will bring together North America’s top teams to compete for the championship title. After successfully coordinating the Ontario Envirothon for over 20 years, Forests Ontario will be hosting the 2016 NAE in Ontario for the first time. Envirothon programs can be found in 45 states in the United States, nine Canadian provinces, and one Canadian territory, and are working to reach 100% participation by all states and provinces. Find out if your area is included on this Regional Map.

Stephanie Miller

With over 25 years experience, Stephanie serves as a senior copywriter, social media director, and senior editor for Science Scene. Stephanie is always on the lookout for new educational and STEM-related opportunities and technology.