Envirothon looks at invasive species

Strasburg FFA students Ethan Gochenour, 16, left, and Ashley Yanego, 17, had to identify the pest (the emerald ash borer) that left residual damage to a piece of bark during the Envirothon held at Sherando Park in Frederick County on Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg High School FFA member Nathan McDonald, 16, identifies and records this white oak tree Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Groups of area high school students endured chilly winds on Wednesday at the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District’s Envirothon competition.

Seven teams from five different high schools participated in the exercise of environmental expertise at Sherando Park from around 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., testing their knowledge of soils, forestry, aquatics and wildlife at different stations around the park.

This year’s fifth topic was on invasive species, and groups gave oral presentations to judges based on a hypothetical scenario. Students were to speak to a farmer from Rockingham about invasive species management, forming a suggestion on how to deal with a number of known pests.

Joan Comanor, vice chair of the district’s board, served as one of the judges for the oral presentation part of the competition. She said the invasive species topic is an important one, with valuable knowledge for farmers, growers and homeowners alike.

“There was some variation … the approaches they used, what they took into account … I was pleased that they tried to consider non-chemical methods,” she said. “Most of the teams had done quite a bit of background studying.”

Strasburg High School FFA students ended up taking home medals for their first place win. Central High School’s team took second and one of two Sherando FFA teams took third. Two teams came from Fort Defiance High School and did not compete for a win.

All three winning teams will be able to move on to the area Envirothon on April 26 at Natural Chimneys Park, but only one team from the Lord Fairfax conservation district would be able to make it into the state-level competition.

Ashley Yanego, a Strasburg senior on the FFA team, said the competition allows her and her fellows to learn more directly from the professional voices and facilitators of the competition.

“It’s preparing us for careers in environmental things and if not, it’s leading us into the future with that knowledge,” she said.

Her team members said that of the many competitions the Strasburg FFA enters into, Envirothon is a bit different in its team-building format and coverage of multiple conservation topics.

Junior Nathan McDonald noted, “Towards the beginning of the year, some of us participate in the forestry contest and the soils and then we do public speaking, and this one just kind of takes all of them and wraps them into one thing.”

Junior Hannah Orndorff added,  “Learning the special issues – that’s something we wouldn’t learn otherwise. Aquatics isn’t a specific contest in FFA … so it’s really cool to be able to have all of that.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

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