Local Envirothon team sets new high score at national competition

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A team photo, prior to project presentations. Left to right is Camryn Berry, Jordan Daigle, Shawn Lecowitch, Austin Gilboe, Bryan Riley, William Brenner and advisor Rob Taylor. (All photos courtesy of Rob Taylor)
Bryan Riley gets up close to a deer at Sandy Point State Park.

EMMITSBURG, Md. – The Spruce Mountain High School Envirothon Team set a new high score for a team from the Jay, Livermore, and Livermore Falls communities at the 2017 National Conservation Foundation Envirothon at Mount Saint Mary’s University last week.

The NCF Envirothon is North America’s largest environmental science competition and includes state champion teams from almost every state and Canadian province, as well as two teams from China. The Spruce Mountain team finished 16th overall, exceeding the previous high finish of 20th by a team from Spruce Mountain High School in 2015 and a team from Jay High School in 2011. Team members include Juniors Jordan Daigle and Bryan Riley, as well as seniors Camryn Berry, William Brenner, Austin Gilboe and Shawn Lecowitch.

The NCF Envirothon includes field tests on four resource areas: Soil Science, Aquatic Ecology, Forestry, and Wildlife Biology. In addition to these tests, students are tested on a Current Issue and need to use skills from all areas to solve a problem involving the issue. This year’s current issue was Soil and Water Conservation Stewardship; at the NCF event it focused on how to reduce the impact of agriculture on Chesapeake Bay, the third largest estuary in the world and the nation’s largest.

As part of the event, teams visited Sandy Point State Park on Chesapeake Bay and were treated to fresh-caught blue crab and were able to swim in the Chesapeake’s brackish waters. The team also posed for a group photo at the Lincoln Memorial with the over 500 people attending the event and had a chance to explore Washington D.C. for a half day.

Students hang wishes on the “Wish Tree” exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art in Washinton DC.

“The event was an incredible opportunity for the students to take what they learned from the Maine Envirothon and the apply those skills to a new place with unique flora, fauna, soils, and ecosystems,” team advisor Rob Taylor said. “The kids had studied Maryland’s environment and its issues a great deal before we left Maine and then they were able to experience it first hand. I am really proud of the achievement of this group.”

A great deal of the team’s success was due to the student understanding of the Current Issue. The team scored an 83/100 on the Current issue test, finishing in 13th place and only 10 points behind the overall NCF championship team from Pennsylvania. The team’s highest score at the event was 182/200 for their Current Issue presentation, which placed them 7th overall and only 12 points behind the top presentation score of 194 by the team from Illinois.

Students had to develop a solution to conservation and business issues faced by the Herbst Family Farm, an award-winning agricultural operation that the team was able to visit earlier in the week during event training. Whereas the Herbst Farm has already effectively implemented a large number of conservation practices like no till planting and integrated pest and nutrient management, the team chose to focus on the business side of the farm’s operations in the presentation. The team’s plan for the Herbst Farm included agritourism opportunities, including a corn maze, pick your own apples, a creamery with an ice cream stand, and a solar powered event center for educational events and corporate outings. The team outlined agricultural best management practices and low impact development construction techniques that would be used to lessen the environmental impact of the agritourism features to the operation, as well as developing a detailed $1.1 million budget for the plan and sources of funding from state and federal sources like the USDA Farm Bill. The Maine Team’s plan was also unique in its explanation of the liability issues agritourism can present, citing an accident in Maine in recent years where a student was killed on a hayride. In the budget, the team included a safety coordinator position to insure the safety of visitors and compliance with safety protocols and regulations, as well as liability insurance to manage the risks that agritourism can create.

Will Brenner, Shawn Lecowitch, Jordan Daigle, and Bryan Riley work on their 20 minute Oral Presentation. The team was sequestered for seven hours in order to write the presentation and felt like they did not have enough time to do everything involved. The presentation took 7th place overall.

The five resource professionals serving as Current Issue Judges were impressed by the team’s presentation. The scoring rubric is set up so that judges provide scores of 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 on a list of 20 standards. The team scored mostly 10’s, with a few 8’s and only one 6 from a single judge. Comments from the judges included: “Great information on stakeholders and interest groups.” “Describing how food insecurity in Maryland is a form of environmental injustice was well done.” “Great job connecting farm issues to the problems in Chesapeake Bay.” “The visuals you created enhanced your presentation and you used them well.” “Good eye contact and body language – showed you were comfortable and confident with your proposal.” The only negative to the team’s presentation is that it was on the short side for time, which cost the team 4 of the total 18 points it lost.

In the other four resource areas tested, the scores were very close for all teams. All of the tests were written by experts in each area and were very challenging. The team’s highest finish was in Wildlife, where they scored 73.5 percent for 17th overall. The team scores a 77 in Forestry and a 76 in Soils, placing them 26th and 28th respectively. Finally, the team’s score of a 80.5 in Aquatics placed 30th. The groups total score of 572/700 (82 percent) placed them 16th overall (a new record for Spruce Mountain.) The top 3 teams at the event were Pennsylvania (635), New York (629), and New Mexico (627), who received team cash awards of $15,000, $10,000, and $5,000 respectively to help with college costs.

A group photo of all NCF Envirothon participants.

The team from Spruce Mountain put in a lot of time and effort prior to the event, including study sessions, developing and solving a practice Current Issue problem scenario, and fundraising. The team would like to thank everyone who made the trip possible by contributing technical and/or financial support. Trip supporters included:

Technical Support:
• Main-Land Development Consultants (especially Bob Berry, Esther Bizier, P.E., Joseph F. Stevenson, LPF, WS)
• David Pike – Pike’s Farm, Farmington Maine
• James Black – Black Acres Farm, Wilton Maine
• Paris Farmer’s Union Jay, Maine
• Franklin County Soil and Water District (especially Rosetta Thompson, District Executive Director)
• Maine Association of Conservation Districts
• Friends of Wilson Lake
• Foothills Land Conservancy
• Ecological Instincts Environmental Consulting and Ecodesign (especially Jen Jesperson)

Financial Support:

• Jay Livermore Falls Lions Club
• St Rose of Lima Daughters of Isabella
• Spruce Mountain High School Gear Up Program
• Teacher’s Lounge Mafia Comedy Troupe
• AMVETS Post 33
• Spruce Mt Pharmacy
• Hilltop Collisions
• Maurais and Sons Plumbing and Heating
• Pine Tree Orthopedic Lab
• Jo’s Hair Fashion
• Pallet One of Maine
• Maine Association of Conservation Districts
• Bessey Designs
• Otis Federal Credit Union and Its Members
• Hillside Sports Club
• Ameriprise Financial Services – Michelle Maki
• Ron and Melanie Gilboe
• Specialty Mineral Company
• Donald Simoneau
• Dube’s Redemption – Jay
• ReEnergy Biomass

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