On a picture-bright morning at Hashawha Environmental Center, a group of Westminster High School students gathered around a table where leaves and branches were laid out and pondered: Is this a sugar maple?
"Swamp maple," said one boy.
"Do we have swamps around here?" countered a girl. She abandoned the maple question for the moment and picked up a small branch the students had identified as a poplar. "Tulip or yellow?"
On a nearby hill at Bear Branch Nature Center, a student from Francis Scott Key High School studied a deer's teeth and guessed the animal's age at about 2 years.
He frowned. "How are we going to sex it?"
Does the test ask for the deer's sex? one of his teammates asked. The boy nodded.
"You're kidding," the teammate said. "How do you sex teeth?"
You probably can't, said Marilyn Mause, wildlife biologist for the Department of Natural Resources. The student was going beyond the test, which asked only for the animal's age.
Ms. Mause explained that a 6-month-old fawn has "baby teeth." By 1 1/2 years of age, adult molars have come in. As the deer ages, its teeth get worn.
The students were puzzling over test questions in Tuesday's fourth annual Carroll County Envirothon, where ecology, science and agriculture-oriented students test their knowledge in aquatics, forestry, ground water, soils and wildlife.
John Shorb, a Francis Scott Key High School senior from Keymar, has already decided, "This is what I want to end up doing."
He said he plans to join the Navy after graduation, earn his college degree in the service and get a job in forestry or natural resource management in Wyoming or Montana.
Other students, such as Jason Seal, a South Carroll High School senior from Mount Airy, aren't yet sure about their careers. But ever since Jason was a youngster visiting his grandparents' farm in Howard County, he has loved the outdoors.
"I was always outside," he said.
One feature of the Envirothon is that students experience a sampling of environmental careers, said forest ranger Beth Trickett. They find out what a ranger actually does and how many skills, such as math, can be used in environmental careers.
From South Carroll High School, teacher Janet Smith-Robinson assembled a team with diverse backgrounds -- a few 4-Hers from farm families, some students interested in forestry and about half who have taken ecology courses.
Caps illustrated her point. One boy on the team had a cap from Farm Credit Corp. Another's cap bore the hip logo, "No Fear."
"I think it is easier for kids with [farm-related] backgrounds," Ms. Smith-Robinson said. "Sometimes they know something and they don't even know how they know."
Biologist Stuart Lehman was impressed with the students' knowledge. "These kids know a lot more about fish and aquatic life than I did," he said.
The aquatics test, used statewide, has a new question this year about how to evaluate a good habitat for fish.
"One of the things we're finding across the state is that habitat is being damaged by storm water runoff," Mr. Lehman said. So the teams this year learned how to judge whether a stream has the right mixture of riffles and deep areas for fish.
If the habitat is good for fish and insects, but the population in the stream is very low, the stream is probably polluted, Mr. Lehman said.
John Shorb and his friend Steve Wright, a Key senior from Taneytown, rated the Envirothon a 10 for high interest, seven for difficulty.
"It wasn't too tough because we got to work in groups," Steve said. "If we had to do it ourselves, I'm not sure it would have gotten done."
The winners were the Key green team, John and Steve's team. A North Carroll High team took second place, a Westminster High team third.
The Key team will move on to state Envirothon competition at a forestry camp in Garrett County next month.
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Due to production problems, this article did not appear in its entirety in yesterday's editions. It is being reprinted here for our readers.