Members of the Helena High School Envirothon Team give a hand at Wood Barrel and Farms last week

Members of the Helena High School Envirothon Team give a hand at Wood Barrel & Farms in early May as a "thank you" for teaching them about their composting and water conservation system

Thom Bridge,thom.bridge@helenair.com

For the second year in a row, Helena High School’s Envirothon team took the Montana state Envirothon championship.

HHS also took first place in the Envirothon aquatics competition.

In early May, they were out at Wood Barrel & Farms on Sierra Road helping the owners, Dave and Angie Wood, to dig weeds and plant cauliflower, onions and leeks.

“It’s pretty cool when you give a bunch of kids shovels, said their coach, science teacher Claire Pichette, as the kids dug up grass clumps with gusto.

The outing was a "thank you" to the farm owners for giving the team real life experiences they used in the natural resource conservation competition in late April at Lewistown.

The competition is sponsored by Montana’s Conservation Districts and is a competitive, problem-solving natural resource event for high school students that’s now in its 22nd year.

On a previous farm visit, “Dave and Angie gave us a little crash course about what they do to conserve soil and water at their farm,” said Pichette, who co-coaches the team with Tyler Hollow. “And the kids actually used some of the ideas in their presentation.”

One trick the Woods taught the HHS team is using wood chips between their garden rows to conserve moisture, which collect rain and also the water from irrigating the fields.

“It acts as a compost and it helps to grow fungal mycelia and ...bacteria to keep the soil really healthy,” Pichette said.

Among the other field trips they took was one to Sevenmile Creek with Prickly Pear Land Trust to learn about stream reclamation.

This year’s members are senior Kris Bosch, and juniors Devin Seyler, Claudia Downing, Emma Beaver and Taylor White.

Each earned a $500 scholarship prize.

Three of the team competed last year at state and later that summer for the North American competition in Ontario.

“Last year was our first time going to nationals,” Pichette said. “They got to meet kids from around the country.”

This year the N.A. competition will be in Emmitsburg, Maryland, July 23 -29 and will include teams from around the United States and Canada, as well as some international teams.

The HHS team has decided not to go, said Pichette, because the students have some prior commitments. The second place team from Hamilton will attend instead.

HHS was one of 33 high school teams competing in Lewistown in late April.

Each team does an identification, short answer and multiple choice test in five topic areas -- wildlife ecology, aquatics, forestry, soils and range science, said Bosch, with each member contributing. Each test takes 25 minutes.

The team also had to jointly prepare an oral presentation. This year they presented to their peers why soil and water conservation are important in Montana.

“All the presentation has to be made from your own knowledge,” said Beaver, the newest member of the team, who just joined a couple of months ago.

“We make our slides and visuals and posters,” said Bosch. “They give you a ziplock bag with your materials (colored pencils and markers). There’s no access to electronics, but there are some resource people to talk with.

“There’s never a boring moment,” said White of Envirothon. “Every part was interesting.”

Not only does the team like competing, they like the intent of Envirothon.

“I think it’s important to get young people thinking about the environment,” said Downing.

Capital High School also did very well, said Pichette. They took third place overall and won first in forestry.

“We always train together,” said Pichette, which helps spread the workload for organizing field trips and adds to the fun.

CHS members were Caleb Noble, Madeline Ulmer, Rob Tabaracci, Kipton Giddings and Emily Burke.

Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 or marga.lincoln@helenair.com

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