For at least the past 10 years, the buck has stopped – literally – at Palmyra High School.

The mounted buck travels to the home of the top-scoring team at the annual Lebanon County Envirothon High School Competition. This year that honor went to the Palmyra Envirovengers, who scored 453 out of a possible 500 points, continuing Palmyra’s run of first-place finishes since 2013. 

That win means the team of five students will head to the state Envirothon and vie to represent Pennsylvania at the North America NCF-Envirothon in July in New Brunswick, Canada.

“Our environment is extremely complex, and it’s important that we understand how our choices affect that environment and how we can manage the natural resources we have,” said Michael Harris, a Palmyra High School senior and member of the Envirovengers, who also received financial support to underwrite their participation at the state competition.

Students from four school districts — Eastern Lebanon, Lebanon, Northern Lebanon and Palmyra — along with teams from Lebanon Christian Academy and Myerstown Enrichment Center competed in the event held Thursday, April 27, at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Read More: Middle Creek celebrates 50 years with full year of activities and challenges

They were tested on their knowledge of soils, wildlife, forestry, and aquatic species and habitats, as well as a current issue, which this year was climate change. 

Test questions were provided by federal and state agencies. The National Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for instance, drafted the questions on soil structure, texture and pH and how each of those affects land use. 

The Fish and Boat Commission posed questions about aquatic species and habitats while the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources challenged students to identify mammals and birds. The wildlife station also included questions on sicknesses, such as chronic wasting disease and West Nile virus, which are plaguing Pennsylvania wildlife.

High school students complete a challenge from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources during the annual Lebanon County Envirothon High School Competition, held at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on April 27. (Provided photo)

“Doing well on the test requires more than memorization,” said Katie Hollen, Envirothon coordinator with the Lebanon County Conservation District. “Students need a deep understanding of natural systems so as to be able to interpret potential impacts and consequences.”

At the forestry station, students had to determine tree species as well as calculate the number of board feet or usable full logs in various trees. They also had to know what percentage of Pennsylvania forests are owned by private landowners (50%).

“It’s important for our youth to understand how to conserve our natural resources, control invasive species and promote biodiversity,” said Andrew Brought, a service forester with the state Bureau of Forestry who oversaw the forestry station. “If we use those resources right and manage them right, we will have them for future generations.”

For many teams, preparing for the Envirothon is a multi-month effort. 

The four Envirothon teams from Northern Lebanon High School, for instance, started prepping for the competition in January with weekly after-school practices. That effort paid off as Northern Lebanon placed two teams in the top five, a first for the high school, said Kaela Still, a junior, whose team — Ditch Chickens — came in fourth.

Still, who supplemented the weekly sessions with 5 to 6 hours a week on her own throughout April, said the hardest part was resolving conflicts over possible answers. 

“We decided as a team that all of us would study all the materials rather than having each of us concentrate on a particular topic,” said Still, an Envirothon participant since third grade. “Knowing how to work through disagreements takes a lot of skill, but deciding to work as a team definitely helped us.” 

The “Darkside Juncos” – the Envirothon team representing Lebanon Christian Academy – placed second in this year’s Lebanon County Envirothon High School Competition. (Provided photo)

This year’s current issue — climate change — integrated students’ understanding of local and regional environments into the global ecosystem with questions on deforestation in Brazil, melting ice caps in the Polar Region and below-average sea-surface water temperature in the Pacific.

As such, it challenged students to consider the impact of human activities across the natural environment as well as to envision solutions that they can develop and be a part of.

“This event builds awareness that our decisions affect not just our backyard but the world around us,” said Brant Portner, environmental education specialist at Middle Creek. “Having the knowledge is key to a healthy environment.”

Lebanon County’s 39th High School Envirothon was sponsored by the Lebanon County Conservation District and Lebanon County Commissioners, with support also from local businesses and environmental groups.

This year’s top 5 teams were:

  1. Envirovengers, Palmyra High School
  2. Darkside Juncos, Lebanon Christian Academy
  3. Trash Pandas, Northern Lebanon High School
  4. Ditch Chickens, Northern Lebanon High School
  5. A Water Penny for Your Thoughts, Eastern Lebanon County High School
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