Students get wet to learn ecology Teams compete in 'Envirothon'

April 15, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

It may have been prophetic when North Carroll High student James Ballard fell into the shallow stream yesterday while testing its depth.

He did the same thing last year. And just like last year, his team from North Carroll took first place at the second annual Envirothon at Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center.

"It's kind of neat to go and see exactly how much you know about environmental [issues]," said Carrie Seigman, a North Carroll senior and captain of the North Carroll Green Team, as they were called yesterday.

The competitive atmosphere is just an incentive to work harder, she said.

A total of 60 students took part. Each of the five high schools could enter two teams of six students each.

They got their feet wet and their boots muddy.

They measured trees, counted fish and examined skulls.

"One day like this is better than months in school," said Jim Gilford, science teacher at Westminster High School. "Whether you win or not, that's icing on the cake."

The North Carroll team will go on to state competition next month in Prince George's County, and on to the nationals if they win at state.

But winning isn't the object of the Envirothon, said Bradley Yohe, supervisor of science for Carroll County schools.

"It's to teach kids about ecology," he said. Winning the state competition could have a downside -- raising more money to send the team to the national event. Mr. Yohe said he isn't sure where that will be.

Envirothon is a program sponsored by the Carroll Soil Conservation District, which works with local and state agencies to conserve soil and water, and its counterparts around the country.

The district manager, Charles "Ed" Null, said local businesses and organizations contributed about $2,200 this year to pay for lunch, transporting students to Hashawha and for substitutes to replace the teachers who came.

The idea is to get five stations set up and have teams of students solve problems and take written tests at each station. Experts from the particular field are there to go over the answers.

The stations yesterday were soil, forestry, wildlife, aquatics and something called "non-point source pollution." The latter term means pollution that doesn't come from any large concentrated discharge or pipe, said Catherine Rappe, chief of the county bureau of water resources management.

At that station, Ms. Rappe tested students on ways to reduce non-point pollution, such as leaks from car fluids and runoff from farmland.

The forestry station gave students a chance to measure the height and width of trees using an instrument called an Abney level, which looked something like a small telescope with a compass attached.

South Carroll High School senior Chasidy Plunkard used another instrument, a prism, to determine whether the area was overpopulated with trees.

State forester Beth Trinkett, there yesterday to administer the test, had spoken at South Carroll and other schools beforehand to prepare students for the Envirothon, as did other experts.

"You didn't prepare us very well for this," Chasidy told her later. "You showed us on one tree."

The students said it was very difficult to use the prism in a forest, such as they had at Hashawha.

"You don't have a forest at your school -- you have a hedgerow," Ms. Trinkett said. "None of the schools have natural forests. You need this typical setting."

Janet Smith-Robinson, science teacher at South Carroll and one of the advisers there yesterday, said students this year spent more time preparing for the event.

"Last year, they just brought the team out and said, 'Go to it.' This year, there was more background reading," Ms. Smith-Robinson said.

The change paid off. South Carroll's teams came in second and third this year, compared with about sixth last year, team members said.

One of the stations, aquatics, had students counting fish after Department of Natural Resources biologists electro-shocked the waters to stun and slow the fish, which recover minutes later.

Biologist Mike Haddaway, in rubber waders, walked through the stream with a long pole attached to a backpack, sending a current through the water. Fellow biologist Doug Marshall followed with a net to get a sampling of the fish: a few sculpin, a roseyside dace, a blacknose dace and a white sucker.

"This is to let them see all the different species, even in a small steam like this," Mr. Marshall said.

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