North Dakota Envirothon

Ducks Unlimited employees volunteer for the annual event

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Ducks Unlimited employee Jennifer Kross stands with her team. She was a trail guide this year for the ND Envirothon competition.

Photo © Dane Buysse

High school students across the state took part in an environmental battle of wits. North Dakota’s annual Envirothon took place May 10-12, 2017, at Crystal Springs Camp near Medina, N.D. The high schoolers were quizzed on soil and water conservation, which was this year’s theme for the competition.

Envirothon gives students a glimpse into the world of natural resources professionals. Biologists from Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups and agencies volunteer for the event.  

Each team has five members who each choose one of four categories to independently study. The categories are aquatics, wildlife, prairie/forestry, and soils. Preparation for the competition usually starts at the beginning of each school year.

Students took a trail test on the first day of Envirothon. This tests the students’ practical knowledge of the material they learned throughout the school year. The next day, students gave an oral presentation before a panel of judges.

Aside from trail tests and oral presentations, Envirothon attendees participated in hands-on demonstrations by area scientists and researchers. This year, Browning’s Honey, based in Jamestown, N.D., brought bee hives and suits. Students held a queen bee and observed hive behavior through a Plexiglass window. A biologist from Pheasants Forever talked about the importance of pollinators and instructed students on how to start a pollinator garden.

Ducks Unlimited provided Envirothon trail guides. The guides ensured students would end up where they needed to be during the event, and provided support when needed. However, the guides would not help the students answer the questions related to their trail test or oral presentation. Having science professionals at the students’ fingertips allowed the competitors to see the wide breadth of careers available for scientists.

“This event allows students to pick the brains of those in the profession, to see if that's something they would want to do as a career someday. Some students use the event as networking for summer jobs. It's a really cool event to be involved with,” said Dane Buysse, state coordinator for the Envirothon and conservation programs biologist for DU.Buysse was a trail guide for many years but took on the new leadership role for the 2017 competition.

Valerie Smallbeck coached Bismarck High School’s team, named Team 1. Smallbeck’s team won first in this year’s state competition and qualified for the North American Envirothon, held at the end of July in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Smallbeck works hard to make sure her students are at the top.

“I schedule weekly study sessions in which I tutor them through important ecological concepts. During some of these study sessions, I ask experts from different fields of study to come in and work with the students,” Smallbeck said.

Her students are dedicated to the event, partially because many of them plan to pursue careers in science. The students on Smallbeck’s past teams have gone into conservation careers, such as soil scientists, naturalists and zookeepers. Students on this year’s team plan to go into agriculture and game and fish management.