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Vermont Envirothon students evaluate impacts of outdoor recreation

Students have been asked to research the connections between the varied outdoor recreation opportunities in Vermont and their impact on our natural resources.

By Barry King

"This year, the topic is Recreational Impacts Upon Natural Resources."

The Vermont Envirothon is a program for high school aged students from throughout Vermont that culminates in an annual day-long natural resources oriented competition. The Vermont Association of Conservation Districts is the lead sponsor of the VT Envirothon. Partners include the VT Dept. of Fish and Wildlife; VT Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation; VT Dept. of Environmental Quality; VT Agency of Agriculture; the George D. Aiken and Northern Vermont Resource Conservation and Development Councils and the US Forest Service. What follows is a nutshell description of the Envirothon, followed by information about judging.

Teams of 5 high school-aged students plus an adult coach work in five areas of natural resource concern; their work culminates in a day-long event at which teams from around Vermont are tested in their knowledge of the five areas. These resource areas are: forestry, wildlife, aquatics, soils and a topic of current issue that changes annually. Registered teams are given various resource information and access to natural resource personnel and spend time over several months working with this material.

On the day of the event, the teams take a test in each of the four regular areas. For example, in the forestry section, they go into a forest where a forester has labeled certain trees. In some cases, the students will i.d. the tree, in other cases, figure out its height or age or how many board feet are in it. They will also answer questions about the type of wildlife that might make use of such a forest.

At the soils testing station, they go into a soils pit and identify the various soil horizons (layers), use a Munsill color chart and answer other questions based on their observations. They will also look at a soils map and determine characteristics of soils and what they are good for. The Wildlife and Aquatics sections operate along the same lines. (I will give you more details if you are interested.) The current issue section is different from the rest. In this part, the teams make an oral presentation before a panel of judges about a previously identified current issue.

This year, the topic is "Recreational Impacts Upon Natural Resources." The students have been asked to research the connections between the varied outdoor recreation opportunities in Vermont and their impact on our natural resources. We want them to learn about their local towns and what recreation options people utilze and what they'd like to increase. The students will come up with a recommendation about making recreation environmentally sustainable in their towns and will consider also the social and economic sustainability of their plan. On the day of the event, they'll present their findings and suggestions. It's a great event. Not only are they researching real and important issues, they have to stand up in front of people and present the results.

The winner of the VT Envirothon goes on to compete in the North American Envirothon, to be held in Arizona this year. While up to 2 teams can compete from any given school, in many cases, the whole class has been working on the material together, have been exposed to the personnel and resource issues and have researched and prepared for the current issue. In some cases, the students end up carrying out the plan they have presented and thus it impacts the whole community.

In 2008, the VT event will take place Tuesday, May 20 from 8-3 at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, VT. We expect to have 14-16 teams participate that day. I am looking for people who can be there the whole day to serve on the Current Issue/Oral Presentation panel of judges. There will be two panels of judges so two teams can present during the same time slot. Each judge has a score sheet for each team they hear; this helps make the process more objective and allows easier comparison between teams. The judges will receive in advance both the score sheet and the Current Issue statement. The judges will meet together at about 8 a.m. to discuss the procedures for the day and will start hearing presentations around 9.

At some point, we'll have a lunch break (lunch is provided) and then reconvene for the afternoon's presentations. When the day is over, scores are tallied. The Current Issue score is doubled and then combined with the scores from the other four stations-- forestry, soils, aquatics, wildlife-- and the day's winners are announced. Although the Envirothon steering committee would like to downplay the competitive aspect, it is important to the kids.

That's a brief idea of the day, the judges' role and the Current Issue. I haven't described how great it is to hear the kids' presentations. It can be challenging to score them but it is always interesting and generally fun. I am amazed each year to find out how much the students have learned about the topic, often starting from scratch. Some of the presentations are pretty rough; this is often the first time the kids have made a public talk and they are understandably nervous. Whatever the quality of the presentation, the work that has gone into preparing for it is striking. Every year, the judges are impressed by the kids' knowledge and enthusiasm. They tell me that judging the Envirothon oral presentation is a great way to spend a day.

Barry King
Co-Chair of the Vermont Envirothon
PO Box 77, Ripton, VT 05766

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