April 22, 2009

The Decorah Teddy Arctos used their knowledge of wildlife, aquatics, forestry, soils and biodiversity to capture the 2009 Iowa Envirothon title.

The Decorah Teddy Arctos used their knowledge of wildlife, aquatics, forestry, soils and biodiversity to capture the 2009 Iowa Envirothon title.

Just when we thought that all hope was lost, that the next generation will need a universal-sized intervention to pry their pasty, nature-deficient fingers from their video game controllers, I bring you hope.

After reading last week about the generation of children that is seriously addicted to video games and technology, I’m happy to report that not all hope is lost. I’ve seen some of those kids…in the woods…totally unplugged…and very knowledgeable about nature.

I watched Earth Day in motion the other day at the 2009 Envirothon state competition at Springbrook State Park in Guthrie County. The contest pits the state’s top 15 high school teams against each other as they demonstrate their knowledge in wildlife, soils, aquatic ecology, forestry and a presentation about biodiversity.

While there were a few teams that were there for the fun experience, others were there to make the most of the experience. At stake were bragging rights of a state title, along with an expense-paid trip to the national competition in North Carolina this summer.

I served as a runner, meaning I helped lead them through the park’s maze to each station and ran their finished tests to the education building for scoring.

It was fun to watch them debate their way to an answer.

And it was really fun to see them so disconnected…to technology, that is. It was a technology-free zone. No cell phones. No i-pods. No mp3 players. No calculators.

They had to go “old school” and use pencils and paper and tools of the naturalists’ trade such as a Biltmore stick, a compass and a Munsell color charts.

Huddled in their little groups with hoodie strings stretched to their limits, the kids worked their ways around the park. They crawled in a six-foot deep pit to study the soil. They fished out water from the pond to measure sediment. They tromped around in the forest to get a closer look at the trees.

And they had so much fun. Watching the teams interact with each other and nature was incredibly inspiring.

Pat Schlarbaum, a wildlife technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, admired their work as he manned the wildlife station.

“I look to you to be great citizens of the natural community,” he told one group before sending them to their next task. To me, he added, “The conservation leaders of the future are here. This is it.”

I hope he’s right. No, I take that back. I know he’s right.

Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is an Ag Commodities Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.


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