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DEP Staff Make Environmental Learning Fun at the 2017 Pennsylvania Envirothon

June 09, 2017 10:00 AM

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High school is a time to explore interests and discover passions, with a seemingly endless array of options.  For a growing number of Pennsylvania students, their extra-curricular activity of choice involves digging in the dirt, identifying bones, bugs and leaves, testing water chemistry, and brainstorming solutions to current environmental issues.

These students spend hundreds of hours each year working in teams, with the help of advisors, to compete for scholarships (and bragging rights) in the premier natural resource and environmental science program known as Envirothon.

Each team consists of five high school students who compete in field-testing their knowledge in five topic areas: Soils and Land Use, Aquatic Ecology, Forestry, Wildlife, and Environmental Issues. The environmental issue is the year’s “hot topic.”

IMG_7641.JPGThe 2017 issue, “Agricultural Soil and Water Conservation Stewardship,” tasked the teams with pitching their plans to a fictional couple looking to purchase their first farm. The teams prepared a proposal that improved soil and water quality, while allowing the couple to build a viable farming business that would sustain their family and enrich their local community.

Envirothon’s success relies heavily on a corps of environmental professionals from non-profit, government, and academic institutions who serve as judges, scorekeepers, and chaperones.

“My life’s work and my hobbies are all tied in some form or fashion to Envirothon topics,” said Fred Fiscus, chief of DEP’s Conservation District Support Section, who served as a judge. “I was impressed by the students’ knowledge of the subject matter, and their creative solutions to the oral component.”

Karen Books, a water program specialist for DEP, is a member of the Envirothon Board of Directors and helps plan and execute the annual event. She also participated in an Envirothon herself as a student at the county and state levels.

“It is always rewarding to see the knowledge of the students and the effort they put into preparing for the competition,” said Books. “We hope these students become citizens and leaders in our community who care for our natural resources.”

IMG_7937.JPGSean Gimbel, executive assistant in DEP’s Office of Water Resources Planning, agrees. “Envirothon is a natural first step toward a career in environmental protection and conservation for many students, but I think the benefits extend to all of the participants, regardless of their career paths,” said Gimbel, who served as an oral competition judge. “Envirothon increases their knowledge of complicated environmental issues, and that advances DEP’s mission of environmental protection, and public health and safety.”

Envirothon began in Pennsylvania and has grown into an international program. In 1979, the Fulton, Luzerne, and Schuylkill county conservation districts created an “Envirolympics” competition. Over the past 38 years, Envirothon at the county and state levels have expanded to include 15,000 high school students from all 67 Pennsylvania counties. The North American Envirothon was launched in 1988, and has recently included teams from Canada and China.

Perennial powerhouse Delaware County won this year’s competition, with close competition from Lebanon County and Greene County in second and third place, respectively. Delaware County will go on to the North American Envirothon competition in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

To learn more, visit the Pennsylvania Envirothon website​. The Pennsylvania Envirothon program is partially funded through a DEP Environmental Education grant.​ 

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