NEW KENT, Va. - Like a magician swirling back his cape to reveal a surprise, Phil West plucked a piece of fabric from the stuffed animal, let students have a peek, then covered it again.
The Game and Inland Fisheries staffer led the group to another prop, lifted its covering briefly, then dropped it back in place.
The students had to identify the animals - a bobcat and a quail - as part of a test on wildlife they took recently during Envirothon 1997 at the New Kent Forestry Center.
Working in teams of 5
About 40 high school students, working in teams of five, tested their knowledge of wildlife, pesticides, forestry, aquatics and soils.
Some of the teams were competing for the right to attend the state Envirothon competition being held in Albemarle County in May. Others already had qualified but were honing their skills - and one team was there for fun.
Hunkered over picnic tables set up between a tree-edged wetland and rows of pine seedlings, the students conferred over multiple-choice questions as a pair of ospreys circled overhead.
The team from Lafayette High School in James City started the morning answering questions about pesticides. Then Essex County extension agent Keith Balderson went over the answers with them.
"The ones we got wrong sound incredibly logical when you explain them," said Kate Peters, 16, a junior.
Peters and the other team members - 17-year-old senior Angie Ashlock and 16-year-old juniors Justin Pennock, David Paiva and Ben Bristow - are all in what they call "wet and dry" biology class. They study aquatic life in the first semester and terrestrial life in the second.
Being on the Envirothon team was one of the options for a project they need to complete, they said.
The team later hiked into the woods to look at trees and knelt by a hole to evaluate layers of soil.
Ralph Mendenhall, a Virginia Tech soil scientist who works in Chesterfield County, said the Envirothon is challenging.
"To me, the Envirothon exposes these kids to many different aspects of the environment," he said. "Hopefully they would become more sensitive, so when they become voters, they will have background to fall back on."
As Mendenhall went over the soil quiz answers, the team from New Kent High School alternately grinned and groaned. All of them - sophomores Kate Potts, 16, John Patteson, 15, and Leslie Ellyson, 16; and juniors Will Mills, 16, and Drew Lambeth, 17 - said they are interested in science, naming environmental engineering, marine biology and zoology as possible careers.
To end the day, each team made a five-minute presentation on how it would solve a problem involving the use of pesticides. The students were given the problem in advance.
The Envirothon is designed to teach natural resource protection and stewardship and is sponsored by the Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
The districts, which are run by elected and appointed directors, offer education and technical assistance to help people conserve soil and water.
The competition was sponsored by the nine districts that include localities in the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula and Richmond area. Other teams were from Essex County, Rappahannock County and Chesterfield's Clover Hill high schools. Northumberland County sent a team to observe.
Winning a competition at a lower level is not the only way to compete at state, said Dawn Shank, state environmental coordinator with the soil and water association. Each of the 46 districts in Virginia can choose a team to send.
The Envirothon began in Pennsylvania in 1979; Virginia's program began in 1993.
The first national competition was in 1988.
The national competition this year is in Johnstown, Pa., in August.
Pub Date: 4/24/97