Central High School's Envirothon team finds early success

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Central High School's Envirothon team (Submitted photo)

Joe Kiefner today has a better understanding of the fragile nature of the environment -- that one decision can set off a detrimental sequence of events.

The Cape Girardeau Central High School senior could fill a book with all the things he's learned about forestry, wildlife, soil and other environmental issues.

He talks about the implications of clear-cutting a forest, a process that involves uniformly cutting down most or all of the trees in an area.

"Trees wither and die all the time, but if you clear-cut it, the forest would have to start all over at the same time. ... It won't grow as tall as it once would have been when you clear-cut," he says. "And if there's a flood or hard rain, all of that valuable top soil will be washed away. That soil will be deposited into streams, which is valuable to fish wildlife and they'll have to find a new habitat. "If something bad happens here, something bad happens everywhere."

It's things like that, Kiefner says, that he never thought much about until he joined the Cape Central High School Envirothon Team. The team, which kicked off its third season this school year, consists of five high school students who learn to identify everything from local trees and birds to the best use of a particular soil.

The students meet weekly for much of the school year to prepare for an all-day regional competition in the spring that consists of rigorous hands-on tests and an oral presentation.

During the competition, the students might have to look at a fish scale and approximate the age of a fish or identify invertebrates that live in a stream. They also give a timed presentation that offers solutions to an environmental problem.

"I really like anything that has to do with the outdoors and environment, so it's neat we can compete on an academic level but also learn new things every day," says Kiefner, who hopes to become a waterfowl biologist.

With only two seasons under its belt, the team placed first overall in the Southeast Regional Envirothon competition both times, earning a spot to compete at the state level for two consecutive years. Central finished 10th in its inaugural year and placed fourth last spring.

Envirothon coach Mark Hahn, a science teacher at Central, says he's found team members through his advanced placement environmental science course, which tends to be taken by students interested in nature and the environment. Lizzie Nussbaum, a senior at Central, was one of the coach's recruits last year.

"I took the class just to be with a friend, and I really ended up liking environmental science," Nussbaum says.

While she has no plans of entering the environmental field -- she's leaning pre-med -- her father is a tree farmer and she imagines she'll also manage a tree farm down the road.

"I'd like to do that for fun," she says. "And what we learn in the Envirothon is so necessary to everyday decisions with a tree farm."

Hahn is proud of his young team's success so far and hopes to find even more students passionate about the environment this fall to create a second team to represent Central.

"I hope some more local schools get motivated to do this, too," he says, noting that no other schools in Cape Girardeau or Jackson have an Envirothon team. "To me, the most important thing is it's a way to get young people to be more aware of their environment."

It appears to be working.