July 09, 2020

60 students take on `land use’ in regional Envirothon games> Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Hodgdon win top honors at Houlton

HOULTON — How much do you know about the 1987 United Nations Brundtland Report?

If you were one of the more than 60 high school students competing in the Northern Regional Envirothon held Friday at Houlton High School, you would have had to know something about it.

The Envirothon is a national learning contest that involves high school students in an approach showing knowledge of conservation and environmental issues. Teams of five students test their knowledge of soils, aquatics, forestry, wildlife and a current environmental issue. This year the issue was land use practices.

Each category was worth 100 points, for a perfect score of 500.

This year’s top teams were Presque Isle High School with 379 1/2 points; Fort Kent, 373 points; and Hodgdon, 363 points. The three teams will go on to the state competition to be held May 31 in Augusta.

Other high schools competing were Washburn, The Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, Houlton, Southern Aroostook Community School in Dyer Brook, Fort Fairfield, Ashland, Katahdin High School in Sherman Station, Easton, and Caribou.

During the three-hour competition at the Houlton High School Exploritorium, team members were challenged to work as a unit to develop creative answers to the various problems they encountered. Only one answer per team could be accepted for each question.

Before the competition, students spent time researching the various subject areas under the direction of an adviser. At the Envirothon, they competed under the supervision of environmental experts.

The Aroostook competition, one of five regional events held statewide, was sponsored by the Southern, Central and St. John Valley Soil and Water Conservation districts in cooperation with the Maine Association of Conservation Districts.

“[The competition] makes students more aware of natural resource issues in a practical setting,” said Michael Sawyer, coordinator of Friday’s event, who added that the competition among the schools is friendly.

Christy Fitzpatrick, director of the science program for the Beacon Project at Houlton High School, said the competition also helps introduce the students to natural resource careers since they have direct contact with professionals in the various fields who supervise the individual stations.

At the soils station, each team had to determine a soil profile using such things as texture, color and drainage capability. With that data, they had to decide which of two soil types it was and then answer questions related to construction, wildlife and agriculture for that soil type. If they picked the wrong soil, they wouldn’t be able to answer the questions correctly.

“It’s a good training tool,” said Steve Cashman of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, who said many of the participants lived on farms. “It’ll give them an understanding of the things they’ll need to grasp. If they can figure all the things out from looking at the soil, they’ll be able to do the right things to keep [the soil] in good shape.”

At the forestry station, students had to identify certain species of trees. But it involved more than just walking up to a tree for a quick look-see.

With several trees flagged as distractions, each team had to use a compass to get to the right trees. Find the wrong tree, get the wrong answers.

“That makes them think,” said Tom Whitworth, a forester with the state Department of Conservation. “It works on whether or not they’ve actually learned how to use the tool.”

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