CCDHS fielding Envirothon teams

Alex Mitchell Star Correspondent
Friday, April 5, 2019
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STAR PHOTO/Alex Mitchell
Envirothon team organizer Brian Kloster, right, helps Custer County District High School senior Steven Ray, center, record the pH of soils, while soil conservationist Katelyn Hess looks on.

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From left, Steven Ray and Brandon Mitchell, seniors at Custer County District High School, listen to Envirothon team organizer Brian Kloster talk about what soils would be best for agriculture.

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Custer County District High School senior Brandon Mitchell, left, studies soil samples with Envirothon team organizer Brian Kloster, center, looking on. Steven Ray, right, flips through some informational materials.

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Brian Kloster, the organizer of the local Envirothon teams, works with soil samples.

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Custer County District High School senior Steven Ray learns about soil as part of Envirothon, a new club at Custer County District High School in Miles City.

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This photo shows soil being tested.

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Custer County District High School freshman Josette Wilson tests the pH levels of different types of soil.

When he went to the state high school Envirothon competition in 2018, Brian Kloster, a soil scientist with the USDA in Miles City, noticed something was amiss.

“So last year, I went to the competition, and I noticed there were no teams from eastern Montana,” Kloster said. “There were teams from Billings, Hamilton, Bozeman — I was sure that we could get a team or two and rally some students.”

And that’s what Kloster did. Posters were placed, and free pizza was proffered at Custer County District High School (CCDHS) promoting the Envirothon in Lewistown on April 29-30.

According to the Montana Department of Natural Resources (MDNRC) and Conservation, which hosts the annual event, “the Envirothon uses the outdoors as an alternative to classroom learning. In this natural setting, students become aware of the many environmental problems that exist today. Working as a team, they learn to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to arrive at solutions to specific environmental problems.”

Enough students were interested that two teams were organized — one for grades 9-10 and another for grades 11-12.

And Miles City will compete in the state Envirothon for the first time in 20 years.

Participant Steven Ray, a senior, said he decided to join Envirothon to benefit his future career as a petroleum engineer. He said it will help him understand the underlying ground structure of soils.

“It’s kind of related to my career. When I’m a petroleum engineer, I don’t want to destroy the environment. I want to know how to be ecologically friendly,” Ray said.

Sophomore Zoey Beardsley said she joined to prepare for her future.

“[I joined] to try and learn as much as I can about rangeland management and to help keep our grasses healthy because I plan on taking over my family ranch some day, or possibly running my own cattle operation,” she said.

After the initial recruitment phase, practice commenced at CCDHS in late February.

Kloster said the Envirothon is a two-part competition.

First, teams will take a general knowledge test. Then they will be given an ongoing environmental issue, and be asked to come up with a solution and present it to a panel of judges.

This year’s unique competition topic is: “How will farmers be able to grow enough food to feed a growing population while also protecting natural resources such as soil, water, air, wildlife, rangeland and forestry resources?”

To prepare the teams, Kloster has devised a twopronged approach.

There are lots of hands-on activities, such as soil testing.

“It’s been a lot of hands-on activities and that will help us with taking the test,” Ray said.

Kloster has also brought in a series of expert speakers to educate the teams. The Envirothon teams have received presentations from an agronomist from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Custer County Weed District Supervisor, a wildlife biologist from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and former Envirothon team member and soil conservationist Katelyn Hess.

“It will be our first time [to compete in the Envirothon] in a long time, so I think there is going to be a learning curve,” Kloster said. “We’re hoping to compensate with a diverse group of speakers and spread out the students’ knowledge.”

Members of the team like the approach so far.

“We’ve been learning about soil texture, and grading whether or not it is good soil. [The presentations] help me understand,” Beardsley said.

Kloster said competing in the Envirothon will help students later in life.

“Envirothon can greatly benefit the student. The stuff that the kids are learning here with Envirothon is stuff they are going to take with them. The Envirothon experience can also provide valuable insight when making career choices,” Kloster said.

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