A five-student team from Garfield-Palouse High School has clinched first place in the Washington State Envirothon Competition and will be competing at the national level at the end of July.
The environmental education competition, which takes place each spring, invites students in ninth through 12th grades to test their knowledge of ecology-based subjects of aquatic ecology and soils, forestry, wildlife and land use.
Each year, the Palouse Conservation District hosts regional competitions and this year they collaborated with 11 similar organizations around the state to help host a statewide competition virtually. As first-place winners, the Garfield-Palouse team, which includes high school seniors Ethan Montgomery, Megan Olson, Austin Jones, Ethan Cook and Garrett Blomgren, will represent Washington schools this year at nationals.
“They work together to answer the questions and there’s usually about 20 questions per test that the students have to get through in about a 45-minute time period,” said Palouse Conservation District Education and Outreach Coordinator Jodi Prout. “Then they rotate between each section (and) each year, there’s a scenario that gets picked up at the national level. This year it’s water resource management.”
Prout said the competition generally consists of a series of tests in each subject area that will include a hands-on and written component. In addition to answering test questions, students are also asked to conduct scientific evaluations to demonstrate their knowledge, which could include anything from plant identification to soil assessments.
Blomgren said while he doesn’t plan on entering a field related to the environmental sciences after high school, the information is nonetheless important and especially impactful to those living in rural areas.
“I grew up in the woods and working in the fields and stuff like that, so preserving that for my future and my family’s future is kind of a big deal,” Blomgren said. “I like to spend a lot of time outside and seeing it all get ruined isn’t cool.”
Garfield-Palouse teacher Mark Sawyer, who advises the school’s team, said they have performed well at the event in the past, but have rarely taken the state title.
While it is a thrill to take first-place, he said this year’s national competition will take place virtually, and it’s a little disappointing they won’t be able to travel for the event this year. He said the virtual format also means that the tests used in the competition are a little less hands-on than usual.
While there is no monetary or scholastic prize associated with the competition, Sawyer said the event is an invaluable opportunity to familiarize students with different professions available to those interested in environmental conservation and he’s deeply proud of the effort they put in.
“This is the year I helped them the least, I had a very experienced team and — this just felt really cool for me to be able to step back and they really earned this on their own,” Sawyer said. “They’ve been through it multiple times and so they were experienced, and they went and kicked butt, it was pretty cool.”
The national Envirothon event, hosted by the National Conservation Foundation, will take place July 25-31.
Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to email@example.com.