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The Hamilton High Envirothon team won the championship at the 20th annual Montana State Envirothon, held in Lewistown last week, and will represent Montana at the National Envirothon in Missouri this summer.

The HHS advisers are Marie Antonioli and Tom Schmit.

“I was very impressed with the incredible work ethic that these 10 Hamilton High students demonstrated, both preparing for the competition and at the contest itself,” said Antonioli. “Not only are they all exceptional students, but they are also active in sports, clubs and most have afterschool jobs. The first day of the competition was a grueling 14 hours, and I was so proud that our kids worked right up to the final bell.”

The Envirothon is sponsored by all the state’s conservation districts. It is a competitive, problem-solving, natural resource event for high school students that challenges them to learn about the environment and test their knowledge against their peers.

Students are trained and tested in natural resources: soils, aquatics, forestry, wildlife plus a new environmental issue each year – this year’s topic was urban forestry.

“Do you know which Montana furbearer is nocturnal and spends most of its time in the trees?” asked Antonioli. “Can you list some possible methods to avoid soil compaction around a construction site? Or why bringing firewood from out of state to Montana potentially poses a great threat to our elm and ash trees? These are some of the many questions that the two Hamilton High Envirothon teams were asked at the recent state competition in Lewistown. This year, one of our Bronc teams outperformed students on 38 teams.”

2015 results for two HHS Envirothon Teams:

Team 15: First place State Champions, second in oral presentation, second on written tests: Hadley Gideon – first (tie) in Range Science test; Tess Gallagher Clancy – second in Aquatics test; Grace Davenport – fifth in Wildlife test; Alleah Jordan – ninth in Forestry test and Brandon Cleveland - 10th in Soils test.

Team 14: Ninth overall, seventh on oral presentation, 10th on written tests: Elise Striebel – fifth in Soils test; Olivia Schmit – sixth in Aquatics test; Aleesha Redmon – 11th in Wildlife test; Finn Belanger – 14th in Forestry test; and Michelle Calderwood – 23rd in Wildlife test.

The HHS students worked with mentors to prepare for the competition. Sylvia McNeill, an ISA-Board Certified Master Arborist, mentor for current topic: Urban Forestry; Chris Clancy, Fisheries Biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, mentor for the past five years on aquatics; Ken McBride, retired Soil Scientist for Forest Service, mentor for the past five years on Soil Science; Walter Lujan, 1977 to 2000, Bureau of Land Management as a Range Conservationist, 2000 to present Natural Resources Conservation Service as a Rangeland Management Specialist - mentor for the past two years on Range Science; Jack Losensky, US Forest Service Forest Ecologist; Rebecca Mowry, Wildlife Biologist, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Katrina Mendrey, Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources (MSU Extension).

“I’m extremely proud of the students and it’s a win for me, too, and I think for all of the mentors,” said Mowry. “After a hard day of working in the wildlife field, it’s always invigorating to show up at mentoring sessions and see how excited these kids are to learn. I went to graduate school in Missouri, too, where the national competition takes place, so I’m extra excited for them to go there and experience a new part of the country and new set of environmental challenges.”

“It is always a pleasure to work with students that make the time and have a genuine interest in natural resources,” said Lujan. “It was great to see their confidence levels increase from one week to the next. When asked a question, the students I worked with never hesitated to give an answer, even if they were unsure of their answers. Overall, what is really special is to see a group of kids raised in an urban setting, learn to understand and appreciate natural resources.”

“Quite a few people, including students, mentors and teachers spend many hours working on this effort,” said Clancy. “The students could be doing a lot of other things, but they choose to study hard and spend many hours learning about real world environmental issues. They are to be congratulated for dedicating their time to the Envirothon. The Bitterroot Conservation District has been very generous in supporting these teams and Marie Antonioli has done a great job of organizing them.”

Advisers were Howard and Patti Eldredge, Conservation District; and Julie Ralston, clerk, Ravalli Conservation District.

“The Bitterroot Conservation District has sponsored this program for the last five years,” said Ralston. “We very excited for the Hamilton High School Team and their accomplishment. Our congratulation goes out to them.”

“Our success in the state competition wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of our tremendous professional mentors who have volunteered to tutor these 10 students in the six areas of environmental science over the past two and a half months,” said Antonioli.

HHS students reflected on their experience with the Envirothon Team.

“Envirothon has probably been my favorite high school activity,” said Tess Gallagher Clancy, senior, four-year member of HHS Envirothon team, Aquatics, and team captain. “Our successes are largely due to our fantastic coach Ms. Antonioli and her assistant Mr. Schmit and to the local mentors who basically give us crash courses in their fields of expertise. We now have highly applicable knowledge that covers multiple areas of Montana’s environment. I believe Envirothon is highly under-participated in, as it’s preparing the next generation of Montanans to cope with impending and present environmental issues and the social and economic problems that accompany them.”

“Envirothon this year was an amazing experience,” said Finn Belanger, sophomore, two-year member of HHS Envirothon Team, Forestry and team captain. “Not only the competition itself, but also the preparation. Being able to meet with mentors who knew so much about their certain field was so cool and the fact that there were only two students to one teacher made all the difference.”

“Envirothon was a very fun experience,” said Hadley Gideon, sophomore, first-year member of HHS Envirothon team, Range Science. “It was challenging but I learned a lot and had a great time over the three-day trip. Monday was the longest because we worked the whole day – from 8 a.m. until 10:30 or 11 p.m. almost nonstop. It was tiring but definitely a new and exciting experience.”

“Mr. Clancy was very kind and patient,” said Olivia Schmit, freshman, and first-year member of HHS Envirothon team, Aquatics. “He could answer any question we had and taught us a lot through presentations, fish specimens and examples of aquatic insects.”

“Studying soils and rocks has always interested me,” said Brandon Cleveland, junior, third year member of the HHS Envirothon Team, Soils. “It shows the history of the area in such an interesting and abstract way.”

The National Envirothon Competition will be held at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, from July 27 through Aug. 2. The five students on the winning team will travel and compete.

“We would like to express our sincere appreciation to our Conservation District and Hamilton School District for the financial support that they have given our teams over the past five years,” said Antonioli. “The Bronc Envirothon team will have to do a substantial amount of fundraising to make this trip possible.”

Donations for the HHS team to compete at the North American Envirothon Competition, call 375-6060 or send your donation to Hamilton High School, 327 Fairground Road, Hamilton, MT 59840 c/o Envirothon Team.”

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.

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Staff Reporter

Reporter at The Ravalli Republic