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Student competition all about natural resources

March 27, 2007|by JEFF SEMLER

Yesterday, 10 teams - some 40 odd high school students - took time out of their day off school to participate in the Washington County Envirothon.

This annual event is held at the Fairview Outdoor School and is coordinated by the Washington County Soil Conservation District. The Envirothon is sponsored on the national level by Canon. That's right, the folks who make cameras and copiers.

So what is the Envirothon?

There are a series of five knowledge stations. Each team rotates through the stations and awards are given in each of the five subject areas, as well as the top three teams over all.

The Soils Station, as you might have guessed, is manned by the Soil Conservation Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Students are given access to a soil pit and asked questions regarding soil type, structure and land use.

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The Forestry Division of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources runs the Forestry Station. Here tree identification, timber assessment and using tools of the trade test the students' knowledge.

The Aquatics Station is also manned by the Soil Conservation Service. Water quality and other issues are tested. The highlight of this station is the mystery fish. The teams are asked to key out and identify an unknown specimen.

The Wildlife Division of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources mans the Wildlife Station. Here habitat evaluation is tested. In addition, animals are keyed out using identification of tracks, skeletons and feathers.

The final station is the Fifth Issue, which is a new topic every year. The issue is chosen by the international host, which is New York for 2007. The subject matter area for this year is Alternative Renewable Energy.

Given the recent events with such happenings as former Vice President Al Gore testifying before Congress about global warming, and his film, "An Inconvenient Truth", garnering an Academy Award, it seems very timely.

Whether you believe in global warming or not, humans have been impacting our planet for a long time. Greenhouse gas emission is just one way, but today it is a hot button issue.

So once again, alternative renewable energy sources are on the front burner. Many of the ideas are not new, while we are applying new technology to them.

Folks my age can hardly remember when BP Solar - formerly known as Solarex - did not grace the roadside of Interstate 70 in Frederick County.

Nor can we forget when the Arab oil embargo brought a wave of ethanol production.

Now, bio-diesel is making a run at the headlines.

Ethanol is as old as moonshine. If you remember the song "Rocky Top," they "Get their corn from a jar." And the Third Reich used bio-diesel to stretch their fuel supply during World War II. In fact, when Rudolph Diesel invented his engine, it ran on peanut oil.

Other energy sources that are being reborn are wind energy and hydro power.

While today's wind mills dwarf their water pump ancestors, the principle is the same. However, they generate electricity rather than pump water.

So while many Washington County high school youth slept in on Monday, a diligent group of students were putting their knowledge to the test.

And, hopefully, they will put that knowledge to work as they move from adolescence to adulthood.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu

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