The Spruce Mountain High School Envirothon team visited Palmico Sound while attending the National Conservation Foundation (NCF) International Envirothon in North Carolina last week. Submitted photo

JAY — The Spruce Mountain High School Envirothon team competed at the National Conservation Foundation (NCF) International Envirothon held at North Carolina State University from July 27 to August 3.

The event hosted teams from across the United States, Canada, and China and featured field tests in Aquatic Ecology, Forestry, Soil Science, Wildlife Management, and this year’s current issue, Agricultural Technology. The SMHS team representing Maine is composed of recently graduated seniors Gabby Beaudoin, John Brenner, Natalie Luce, Hunter Quirrion, and Orion Schwab.

The team won the Maine Envirothon Championship, May 31 at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine Nature Center in Augusta.

The team finished 31st overall at the NCF event at NC State in a field of 54 teams.

“The competition was fierce this year,” said Spruce Mountain team advisor Rob Taylor. “For example, China has only been doing Envirothon for three years and the country is looking at dealing with the environmental impacts of its massive population.

“The program there is growing swiftly and over 100 teams competed this year, with the top three advancing to the NCF competition. A team from Shanghai became the first team from China to place at the NCF competition, taking seventh overall.

“The team from New Mexico raised enough funds to arrive a week before the competition, spending a full seven days studying the ecology of North Carolina first hand. The Pennsylvania team prepared by solving multiple current issue problems and doing several public presentations.

“To say the competition was fierce is an understatement.”

The Spruce team spent a great deal of time preparing for the Maine Envirothon and won the state title just 10 days before the team of seniors graduated. The students have spent every Monday and Tuesday morning this summer preparing for the competition, as well as doing fundraising to attend.

“The kids have been really dedicated and put a lot into learning about North Carolina’s unique flora, fauna, soils, agriculture, and culture,” Taylor said. “It was a lot to learn. Being on the east coast, North Carolina may seem similar to Maine.

“There are big differences when you look beneath the surface. For example, we have very different crops, soils, and values when it comes to things like property rights. There are few lakes there and management of creeks and streams dominates water quality management. Also, North Carolina has the greatest tree biodiversity in the United States, as it is the northern end of the range of southern species and the southern end of the range of northern species. There was a great deal to absorb.”

After a day of training, a day of testing, and a full day in which the students were sequestered as a team without internet access to solve a current issue problem, the week ended with students presenting their solution to a panel of judges.

The top three teams overall then presented again in a final round in front of a packed auditorium for a common panel of judges to reduce scoring discrepancies when determining the overall champion. The team from Virginia, North Carolina’s northern neighbor, took first overall with a score of 566.83 out of 700 in the preliminary and 570.30 after the finals.

North Carolina took second with a preliminary score of 562.17 and a final round score of 564.5. Pennsylvania took third with 567.17 in the preliminary and 547.90 after the final.

The Spruce Mountain team finished 31st overall with a score of 455.58. The team was 10th in the current issue test (81/100), 14th in aquatics (82.5/100), 15th in forestry (77/100), 30th in soils (33.5/100), 33rd in wildlife (64.2/100), and 45th in oral presentation (117.33/200.)

Prior to attending the event, the team members spent a great deal of time studying agricultural technology by examining over 30 documents on the topic provided by the NCF. They worked on solving a practice current issue problem scenario created by Mr. Taylor.

“I was really pleased to see them in the top 10 on the agricultural technology test. Most of the kids on the team also do robotics and their ability to understand how to apply technology came through,” according to Rob Taylor.

The judges were critical of the team’s current issue oral presentation, scoring them only 117 out of 200 points on their project.

“I was pleased with the kids’ presentation. They were given a scenario about a 362 acre fictional farm and were asked to create a management plan implementing the latest agricultural technologies.

“The kids described how to use agroecology principles. Their plan featured pigs foraging under a forest canopy in a system called silvopasture. They described how genetically modified crops can improve yields and are helping feed an enormous and growing world population.

“They implemented crop rotation and strip cropping techniques to preserve soils and described the proper way to use agricultural drones to collect digital crop data for analysis with geographic information systems technology. They cited information from sources they had studied prior to attending, including information from local farmers Joel Gilbert of Berry Hill Fruit Farms and David Pike of Pike’s Strawberries.

“I thought their presentation showed a real understanding of the issues regarding feeding people in the 21st Century.”

SMHS Envirothon Team members study North Carolina trees with North Carolina biologist Bryan England. Submitted photo

Upon arrival in North Carolina on Saturday July 27, the team immediately went to the Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve in Raleigh, where Mr. Taylor had arranged for a training on the trees of North Carolina with North Carolina Biologist Brian England, who spent the afternoon showing the students a huge variety of species and explaining their life histories and uses.

This helped Spruce Mountain place 15th in forestry. Team members have also been actively working with the Livermore Falls Water District in monitoring the quality of its surface water bodies. They helped organize and conduct a watershed survey in June. These experiences contributed to the teams 14th place finish in aquatic ecology.

Wednesday was a “travel day” designed to break up the week and expose the teams to North Carolina’s natural resources, history, and culture. The team got to travel with all the other teams to Fort Macon to learn local history and experience Atlantic Beach in Pamlico Sound, which is formed by North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks.

Hunter Quirrion even caught a “croaker” fish from the sound. They visited the North Carolina Museum of Natural History and the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. At a banquet on Wednesday, they learned first hand why the word “barbeque” in North Carolina is a noun, not a verb, referring exclusively to pulled pork.

The SMHS Envorothon team is all dressed up for the end of week awards banquet. Pictured from left are Natalie Luce, Hunter Quirrion, Gabby Beaudoin, Orion Schwab, John Brenner and advisor Rob Taylor. Submitted photo

The team is thankful for all of the sponsors who helped it get to North Carolina, to female parent chaperone Mary Redmond Luce, and to Spruce Mountain Biology teacher Ken Baker and horticulturalist Sarah Delaney, who helped the team prepare to compete.

“The kids will all be off to college very soon,” said Taylor.

Gabby Beaudoin will be majoring in Guidance Counseling at the University of Maine at Farmington, Hunter Quirrion and Orion Schwab will be majoring in Engineering at UMaine Orono, Natalie Luce will study Forensic Science at Husson and John Brenner will major in Agriculture at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Taylor added, “I have had the opportunity to share some great experiences with these awesome kids and I will miss them.”

The SMHS Envirothon was in North Carolina last week for the NCF International Envirothon competition. Member Hunter Quirrion is seen with the croaker fish he caught while visiting Palmico Sound. Submitted photo

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