Excited, but unsure of what to expect, I boarded a plane on July 22 and traveled to New Brunswick, Canada, to represent Oregon at the NCF-Envirothon — North America’s largest high-school environmental education competition. I would later find out that it’s nearly impossible to know what to expect at this event, which hosts about 300 high-school students and their teachers and chaperones for a week-long competition totally focused on natural resources.
After almost 24 hours of travel due to delays and missed connections, I arrived at Mount Allison University, the site of the competition. I was tired, but still excited to observe and participate in the event.
Forty-nine teams from across the U.S., Canada, China and Singapore had traveled to this year’s competition, held July 23-28. Each of the participating teams, which are composed of five high-school students, won the Envirothon competition in their region, qualifying them to advance to the international competition. This event would test their knowledge of soil and land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, and wildlife management through written tests and interactive stations. This year, these topics featured New Brunswick’s natural resources. The teams also took tests and prepared oral presentations on this year’s current issue: “Adapting to a Changing Climate.”
The Oregon team from Logos Public Charter School in Medford won the 2023 Oregon Envirothon in May. OFRI organizes and sponsors the statewide qualifying competition, which is held at The Oregon Garden in Silverton each spring.
To prepare for the NCF-Envirothon, the Logos students — who called their team “Rogue Pack Alpha” — arrived in New Brunswick the week before the competition to train and become familiar with the region’s natural resources. Their teacher, Christopher Van Ness, had scheduled time for them to work in the field with representatives from the Canadian Forest Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service.
The first day of the competition was an extensive team training day. All students went through a trial run of the test stations. The next day was the real thing. As team members boarded the buses to the testing site, they were not allowed any electronic devices. Wednesday, the teams took a day off and enjoyed a field trip to the Bay of Fundy.
Thursday was prep day for the oral presentation, and teams were sequestered separately and given the current-issue topic. They had six hours to prepare a 20-minute oral and visual presentation on the issues surrounding saltwater marshes in the Tantramar region, which is between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. To give you a sense of how serious this competition is, students were provided with pencils and only allowed to bring a water bottle. All bags were searched before students went into sequestration to ensure no team had an unfair advantage.
On Friday morning, the last day of the competition, the teams gave their presentations in front of five highly educated and experienced judges. I watched from the audience when the Oregon team presented, and they did a great job. It was hard to believe they only had six hours to prepare for a presentation on such a very complicated topic.
The week ended with an award ceremony, and the Oregon team placed 13th overall.
Envirothon’s vision is to create future conservation leaders. Watching and listening to students at the competition showed me the level of commitment, talent and knowledge they possess. It’s easy to imagine these students in leadership roles! I’m proud that OFRI supports and sponsors the Oregon Envirothon program to raise up the next generation of natural resource professionals.
Director of K-12 Programs
I love being in the woods. I don’t care if it’s just for a moment, or weeks at a time. As soon as my boots hit the dirt, I feel a sense of connection I don’t feel anywhere else. I imagine many of us who work in the woods feel this way – even if we don’t get out there as much as we would like.
As a wildlife biologist, when I’m among the trees I particularly tune in to the birds you can find in the forest. I like hearing them, seeing them and observing their behavior. In my job I spend quite a bit of time with foresters, loggers and others who work in the woods, helping them understand which kinds of birds have special protections under state and federal law – things they must consider when planning a timber harvest or other forest operation.
There are several species of birds called out in the Oregon Forest Practices Act, which regulates forest management practices on state and private forestland. These species require protections when forest operations could conflict with nesting. Each species has a different biology, and therefore different protections based on how and when they nest and the needs of their young.
I recently helped the Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s Wildlife in Managed Forests program develop a new publication for forest landowners, managers and operators to help them understand the varied protections for bird species required by the Oregon Forest Practices Act. The Wildlife in Managed Forests: Forest Practices Act Reference Series outlines these protections for a variety of bird species. It describes specific protection requirements for each of the nine bird species featured in the pamphlet, including a chart showing the critical nesting times when special protections are required for the species.
One way the chart can be used by operators and forest managers is to review it prior to planning timber harvests, to understand when birds aren’t nesting. That’s because if your logging operation is near a known active nest, it’s best to plan harvests outside that bird species’ nesting season.
Understanding the Forest Practices Act protections for certain forest-reliant bird species is sometimes confusing, because the law requires very specific protection measures for species such as the northern spotted owl and osprey – while not for other species such as the golden eagle and marbled murrelet. This has a lot to do with whether the bird species is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, and whether specific forest practice rules have been established for a species. OFRI’s new reference series that outlines these differences clearly will be incredibly helpful for anyone owning or managing an Oregon forest where these species can be found.
I encourage anyone who works in the woods to review and keep this publication handy. I use this information all the time.
Certified Wildlife Biologist®
Header photo: Sara Duncan
Northern spotted owl photo: Eliana Pool
I didn’t truly know how wildfires affected Oregon until I visited an art exhibit where I could visually and sonically experience the impacts of fire. I’ve heard about wildfire devastation on the news and from friends, but have never experienced them firsthand. Sarah Grew’s “Ghost Forest” and Jon Bellona’s “Wildfire” transformed a gallery into a haunting, ethereal space of warning. The art installations ran from April 24 to May 4 at the University of Oregon’s LaVerne Krause Gallery.
When I walked into the gallery, I immediately felt a chill down my spine. I was struck by the sound of crackling fire, which I couldn’t hear from outside the space. Then the fragile “ghost trees,” photographs printed on suspended panes of glass, cautioned me to walk carefully around them. The sensitivity of navigating the space made me think of the how dramatically Oregon forests and the ecosystems they house can be reshaped by fire. The ghost trees were carbon-printed images from the 2020 wildfires that devasted our state and other parts of the West, intermixed with historical forest photos. The prints were made using wildfire ash Grew collected from various forest fires across the Western U.S., including 2020’s Holiday Farm Fire, which burned more than 174,000 acres of state, federal and private land in the McKenzie River Valley east of Eugene. Grew muddled the ash and mixed it with binders to create a material that could print images. She then arranged the ghost trees in the gallery to mimic a real forest, with all its twists and turns. At first the ghost trees hanging from cables enveloped in glass overwhelmed my mind. Each photo was facing a different direction, and it was hard to take in. Viewing each image required careful consideration. I accidentally bumped into one and the entire cable started to move, startling me.
The “Ghost Forest” exhibit was accompanied by another art installation, “Wildfire” by Jon Bellona. “Wildfire” is an exponentially sonic exploration of being in the middle of a wildfire. The intense sounds of crackling fire coming from speakers mounted on the walls took me by surprise, and at one point became so loud that I stepped out of the gallery for a moment of quiet.
I had to recognize this privilege. For many Oregonians, the loud, suffocating and frightening wildfires in 2020 were a reality that will affect their lives for years to come. More than 4,000 homes were destroyed in the Labor Day fires, and many forest landowners saw the trees they’d cared for go up in smoke. The social, ecological and economic impacts of these wildfires bear repeating.
The “Ghost Forest” and “Wildfire” exhibit was an exceptional and grounding experience, and a reminder for Oregonians as we enter another wildfire season to do everything we can to prevent and prepare for wildfire.
For wildfire prevention tips, I encourage you to visit Keep Oregon Green’s website. I also encourage you to learn more about the art installations I experienced, at the following links:
• “Ghost Forest”
Social Media & Outreach Intern
It’s about 8 a.m. on Friday, May 5, when I arrive at The Oregon Garden for the 27th annual Oregon Envirothon competition. It’s a cool and cloudy day, and everyone’s fingers are crossed that the rain holds off. Dozens of volunteers have also arrived to help make this a memorable day for the 90-plus high-school students that have traveled here from across Oregon to test their knowledge about natural resources. Plenty of coffee and snacks have been set out for the volunteers and students to make sure everyone is fueled up for the big day ahead. By the afternoon, we’ll see which school takes home the top prize: the chance to represent Oregon at the national Envirothon competition this summer.
OFRI organizes and sponsors the Oregon Envirothon, an annual competition in which Oregon high-school students test their knowledge of environmental sciences. The regional event is part of NCF-Envirothon, a national organization that works to develop the next generation of conservation leaders.
Each year, Envirothon impacts thousands of young people across the country. The program is made possible by dedicated volunteers, teachers and advisors, along with many passionate students. The Oregon Envirothon is open to all Oregon high-school students and is held annually on the first Friday in May at The Oregon Garden in Silverton.
Students from a dozen different high schools located across the state gathered at The Oregon Garden for the 2023 Oregon Envirothon. They were joined by over 40 volunteers and the entire OFRI staff, all dedicated to making it a memorable day.
This year’s Oregon Envirothon started with everyone gathering in the Grand Hall, where Rikki Heath – OFRI’s K-12 environmental educator – kicked off the day with the overall agenda and instructions. By 9 a.m., the 20 small teams of students were released to their first stations.
Teams face off by completing a series of exams at five stations positioned in relevant locations throughout the 80-acre botanical garden. For example, the forestry station is in the Rediscovery Forest, a 15-acre demonstration forest that OFRI manages. After 25 minutes at a station, students move to the next one – resembling a race or “marathon” of environmental testing, hence the name “Envirothon.”
The five ecological stations include the “core four” – aquatic ecology, forest ecology, soils and land use, and wildlife ecology – which remain consistent year to year, plus a current issue, which changes for each event. This year’s current issue was “Adapting to the Changing Climate.” I visited the wildlife station first, where the students were hard at work studying the various displays and working through the exam questions together.
By about 1 p.m., all the teams had completed their tests at each station, and it was time to reconvene at the Grand Hall for lunch and oral presentations. The oral presentation competition focuses on the year’s current issue, and students prepare for it in advance by sending in video presentations that are scored before competition day. The two highest-scoring teams were selected to deliver their presentations live at the competition for a panel of expert judges, other participating students, their teachers and volunteers.
Finally, it was awards time! The top five teams overall each received a wooden plaque to commemorate the event, and the first-place team won the opportunity to travel to New Brunswick, Canada in July to compete against other state finalists from around the U.S. and Canada. Oregon Envirothon is an affiliate of NCF-Envirothon, which hosts the national competition for the top team from each U.S. state and Canadian province.
Southern Oregon virtually swept the awards, with the “Rogue Pack Alpha” team from Logos Public Charter School in Medford winning five of the six individual category awards and first place overall.
It was an amazing day with some tremendously talented high-school students, many of whom are likely to be Oregon’s future natural resources leaders. And OFRI’s staff did a wonderful job (as always!) with the pre-planning and execution that day to pull off another successful event. OFRI is proud to be the sole financial sponsor and staff supporter of Oregon Envirothon, and we always love to collaborate with many other supporters and volunteers throughout the year to make this annual event the success it’s been for 27 years running.
This was my first time experiencing the Oregon Envirothon since coming on as executive director last year, and it didn’t disappoint. I’ll be looking forward to the next one in 2024 and getting to see all the youthful excitement again around a future in Oregon’s natural resources.