May 3, 2013
Students test science skills
Envirothon in Solon brings together teams from area schools
SOLON — Local students put to work their environmental science knowledge in the field Thursday amid sunshine and warm temperatures at the 2013 Cortland County Envirothon.
Teams of students sought the best score at Camp Owahta in Solon as they identified trees, scrutinized soil samples and discussed environmental challenges, while getting a taste for what careers like foresters and soil scientists might be like.
“I have an interest in environmental science in general,” said Lucas Marsh, 17, from Marathon school district’s team, after taking a test about current environmental challenges. “Someday I would like to make a career out of it.”
His teammate Patrick Lehman, 14, was inspired to get involved with the club because his uncle is a forester at Gutchess Lumber in Cortlandville.
“And it’s good to know what’s around you and what you’re living in,” Lehman said.
The local competition is organized by the Cortland County Soil & Water Conservation District, said Amanda Barber, the agency’s manager.
Teams of at least three students from county schools are tested in the areas of wildlife, forestry, aquatics and soils.
Students are also tested on their knowledge of a pre-selected current issue facing environmental groups and are presented with an environmental challenge to solve.
This year’s issue involved cattle grazing on public and private land and students were asked to develop a grazing plan to present to a panel as if the students were seeking a permit to graze on public land as part of the problem-solving section.
Through the competition, students are given a chance to learn independently, instead of just taking notes in class, said Gavin Gates, 17, the third member of the Marathon team.
“Like we did the work,” Gates said.
“It’s their job to pull it all together,” said Courtney Farkas, who teaches science and biology at different levels in the Marathon district and advised the team.
“It’s completely extra,” Farkas said, adding that the students are also busy with sports and school’s everyday demands.
The Envirothon lets the students learn hands-on about the environment, Gates said.
“When you can actually see it and do it, it sticks with you better,” he said.
At the soil station, students checked for the slope of a hill, the acidity of a soil sample and how many soil horizons, or layers of different soil types, were in a soil sample under the watchful eye of Suzette Kocher, the Cortland County district conservationist with the National Resources Conservation Service.
“We have people in our agency that are soil scientists,” said Kocher, adding that the Envirothon can give the students ideas for their future lives.
“We’re not all going to sit at desks and we’re not all going to be rocket scientists,” Barber said.
Brittany White, a Tully Senior attending New Visions Environmental Science program through Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES at the Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science in Cortlandville, also had her eye on an environmental science career.
But after studying in the New Visions program and competing in the Envirothon, she realized that she would rather pursue her environmental passions as a hobby.
Still, White thought the Envirothon had been worth her while.
“Hopefully they’ll (the students) gain a better respect for natural resources,” Kocher said.
“And really, it’s just about how much do these kids know about their resources and environment,” Barber said.
“I definitely would recommend it to anyone,” White said, adding that she was very excited to be at the competition and hoped to win.
Cincy Red, one of two Cincinnatus teams, took first place Thursday with 482 points out of a possible 600 and Second Bugle Boys and the Babes, a different New Visions team, took second with 402 points.
White’s team, Country Bumpkins, was third and scored 389.
Cincy Red will go on to compete at the state level at Morrisville State College May 30 and 31.
The state champ will compete against teams from across North America at an international competition Aug. 4 through 9 at Montana State University in Bozeman.
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