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.