Annual competition is competitive outlet for young environmentalists

Matthew Erickson’s been a fan of Animal Planet ever since he was a child.

Eventually, the Polytech High School senior’s passion for wildlife drove him to challenge other nature-minded students head-on.

On Thursday, students from schools across the state will gather at Brecknock Park for the 21st annual Envirothon, a competition testing knowledge of environmental science.

Envirothon chairman Rick Micowski said competitors will be asked in-depth questions about a range of topics from air quality control to invasive species.

Another round of the Envirothon tests knowledge of animal physiology, where they’ll identify an animal by looking at a skull. Other rounds will put ornithology know-how to the test, challenging them to match a bird species to its call.

“It’s a chance to challenge yourself,” Erickson said. “Lots of people are very competitive and of course the whole idea is to protect the environment.”

Last year, Erikson competed but fell short of victory. This year, he hopes his team will go all the way and take the $500 scholarship top prize.

Arie Medina, 18, said she’s drawn to the field in hopes of finding a balance between lessening human impact on the planet while still making the best use of its resources.

“We need to keep up with the demand of human populations needing lumber, and also maintain our land to preserve our wildlife reserves,” she said. “[We need to] make sure those resources don’t deplete.”

Medina was attracted to the world of environmental science like so many before her because she loved the outdoors.

“It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed,” she said. “I really enjoyed the practice of tree identification and measuring the tree and finding out how much it would be worth.”

According to Mickowski the Envirothon always includes a new element. This year’s it’s invasive species. Students will face a selection of samples on a table. Their aim is to not only identify the species but understand its origins and how it’s harmful to Delaware’s ecosystem.

The category was added because it will be the main topic during the national competition, July 24-29 in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. The Thursday’s winners will advance to this round.

Preparing for the Envirothon is a matter of studying and preparation, said Erikson. He’s always been  hands-on, so this was right up his alley.

“What helped me personally was actually physically doing the competition,” he said. “When I’m [practicing] the soil test I have to actually know what soil feels like.”