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Envirothon Training for High School Students

story by Dee Ann Littlefield

NRCS Range Management Specialist Charles Knueper teaches students Plant ID techniques. Students from Richardson High School recently got some “boots on the ground” experience and put their text book research to use on a field trip to the Dixon Water Foundation’s Pittman Ranch near Gainesville, Texas.

Thirteen students, led by environmental science teachers Tony Strohmeyer and Aurora Everett, are training for the 2013 Envirothon to be held in April 12 in McAllen, Texas. The topic this year is ‘Sustainable Rangeland Management: Achieving a balance between Traditional Agricultural Uses with Non-Agricultural Uses.’ Envirothon is North America's largest high school environmental education competition.

“We are so excited to be a part of the training for this event,” said Janet Samford, outreach director for The Dixon Water Foundation.
The training day was coordinated by Nathan Haile, regional agronomist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) based in Weatherford, Texas. Training was provided by NRCS Regional Range Management Specialist Charles Kneuper, NRCS Regional Soil Scientist John Sackett and NRCS Regional Wildlife B iologist Ricky Linex.

A Richardson High School student compares the soil sample to the soil chart for identification.
“I have worked with the Envirothon thru the years both conducting the contest and helping to train students attending the contest and I feel that it is good opportunity for students to learn about resource management and the environment around them.” Haile said.

“The students have been studying hard, but there is no substitute for getting out on the land and getting to experience and see all the things they have been reading about,” Everett said.
The NRCS specialists helped Strohmeyer accomplish his goals for the students, which included identifying some of the main grasses found in Texas, understanding a soil profile and how to analyze it, as well as various agriculture practices and their relation to water systems. 
John Sackett shows the students how to quickly determine slope in a pasture. Strohmeyer explained the students compete in the Envirothon in teams of five, with two test phases over the course of two days. The first day the students are lectured on the main topics of soils, aquatics, wildlife, and forestry. The next day they are field tested. They are timed as they move from station to station within the outdoor habitat.

Later that night they have a short lecture by a visiting professor over the current topic again. Then, using only their notes and, the teams are sequestered in their hotel room to set up a presentation using background information from all the categories and some sustainable practices to solve a problem. They have three hours to create a 20 minute presentation and deliver it to the guest lecturers. The guests are typically from NRCS, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Forest Service, Texas Forest Service, Colleges, and local officials.
NRCS Soil Scientist John Sackett teaches students how to identify soil samples using the ribbon testStrohmeyer said eight schools, each with one or two teams compete in the Envirothon in Texas every year. According to Strohmeyer, Richardson High School is one of only two public schools competing in the competition and the only one from the north Texas area. Strohmeyer’s team has finished as high as fourth, but is hoping for a win this year, which will qualify them for the national Envirothon competition, held in Bozeman, Montana in August. 

“It is a very hard test, but all the students have loved the experience are now using it in college,” Strohmeyer said. “One former contestant of mine is now studying environmental design at Texas A&M and another is building a community garden at Rhodes College in Tennessee.”