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Contest takes students outside

Mike Brown had some sage advice for anyone strolling around the deep soil pit Monday at Fort Cooper State Park.

"Don't walk near that hole," said the 10th-grade member of Lecanto High School's Environmentals team. "You'll fall."

Brown was speaking from experience, having just climbed out of the 5-foot-deep sandy cavity near the park's lakefront, where he had been using a testing kit to determine the acidity or alkalinity of the soil.

But the close encounter with Mother Earth didn't shake up Brown. He and his teammates expected to get down and dirty as participants in the third annual Nature Coast Regional Envirothon, hosted for the first time by Citrus County.

The Environmentals were joined by 54 other teams from Citrus, Sumter, Hernando and Pasco counties competing in six categories: aquatics, forestry, wildlife, soils, water resources and ecosystem management.

When the dust settled and the water quality gauges were stilled, the BioRangers from Springstead High School in Hernando County had outscored the other teams to win the Envirothon crown for the second straight year.

Each member of that winning team will receive a $500 scholarship upon graduation from high school and acceptance at a postsecondary school.

"Mom's going to be real pleased," said second time regional winner Christine Sperlazza, who plans to use her prize at Florida State University.

The BioRangers were quick to praise their competition but said that as veterans of the event, this year was smooth sailing. "It's our senior year," Sperlazza said. "It's like we had to leave our trademark or something."

The top team from Citrus County was Hi-C, a team of home school students. Sumter's winning team was the Environmental Raiders I from South Sumter High School, and Pasco County's top team was Intelegentsia from Zephyrhills High School.

Blessed with a perfect day, nearly 300 students gathered early in the day around Lake Holathlikaha, in sight of a couple of soaring eagles and in the midst of complaining grackles. They were dressed in matching Envirothon T-shirts and caps, provided by the event's sponsors. A sea of green.

Having prepared for this event for months, the students were eager to begin. Even though they enjoyed being out of the classrooms for the day, the students said they didn't look at this as a day off.

"Even though you're not in school, you still have to think," said Sumter High School 10-grader Elizabeth Clark.

The five-member teams moved from station to station answering questions devised by experts in the various areas. Some were hands-on or visual questions, such as using a directional antenna to pinpoint a receiver, as in the tracking of manatees; and identification of animal tracks and a large, Florida pine snake.

The snake seemed to present a challenge to some the students because, though not particularly uncommon, pine snakes are frequently seen because they spend a lot of time hiding underground.

Asked which question they found particularly difficult, South Sumter High School's Raiders Five said they struggled with the snake. "Well, not literally," team member Robyn Crawford said with a laugh.

The Envirothon presented dozens of equally challenging questions. Students were asked to say how old a squirrel was by simply looking at its tail. Team members were shown two empty acorns and asked what kind of animal had harvested them.

This year, ecosystem management was added to thecategories. Department of Environmental Protection representative Kathy Liles described ecosystem management as "citizenship, stewardship and sustainability." Students answered questions about invasive exotic plants and place-based management.

One question Liles said the students had trouble with was which exotic species was being managed at Fort Cooper State Park. The choices were cogon grass, alligators, feral pigs and water hyacinth. Cogon grass was the answer.

The students also were faced with a giant aerial map and asked to identify the stake holders. This was a tough one because in order to get the question correct, the teams had to determine all the stake holders and know what a stake holder is.

At the end of the testing, the students were treated to lunch by the Friends of Fort Cooper and music by forester/singer Dave Fogler while they waited for the results of the tests.

At the awards ceremony, Envirothon coordinator and soil scientist Paul Pilny, who says he already is looking forward to next year, announced that the top teams from each of the four counties go on to the Florida Envirothon, April 25 and 26, at Highland State Park in Sebring. The winners there go to the National Envirothon Competition in Jonestown, Pa., in August.

Pilny said this year's 55 teams is a record number for the Nature Coast Regional event and one of the largest of the regional envirothons in Florida.

Sample questions

Here are sample questions from the six sections of the Envirothon. The answers are at the bottom.

1) Forestry

Q: The Naval Store is one of the oldest industries in the South. The process for Naval Stores is to:

a) Harvest live oak to build ships.

b) Extract pitch from living pine trees.

c) Extract cellulose for paper production.

d) Recruit retired foresters.

2) Soil

Q: The Sand Pine Scrub ecological community is easily identifiable by:

a) Poorly drained soils.

b) Droughty soils.

c) Hardwood dominance.

d) All of the above.

3) Wildlife management

Q: What is the longest snake native to the U.S.?

a) Coachwhip.

b) Eastern diamondback rattler.

c) Eastern indigo.

d) Rosy boa.

4) Ecosystem management

Q: The four cornerstones of ecosystem management are:

a) Regulation, compliance, enforcement, permitting.

b) Place-based management, cultural change, common-sense regulation, improved foundation.

c) Department of Environmental Protection, water management districts, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nature Conservancy.

d) Larry, Mo, Curly and Shep.

e) Tampa, Pensacola, Tallahassee, Miami.

5) Aquatics

Q: A Category 3 hurricane is approaching a region with a long, gentle sloping shelf and a shallow normal water depth. The storm surge expected will be:

a) A low surge with high, powerful waves.

b) A high surge with smaller waves.

c) A low surge with smaller waves.

d) A high surge with high, powerful waves.

e) No surge with a single power wave.

6) Water resources

Q: What type of lake is characterized by low nutrient concentration, low plant biomass, low productivity, very little sedimentation, high water clarity and good water quality?

a) Eutrophic.

b) Planktrophic.

c) Biotrophic.

d) Oligotrophic.

e) Herbitrophic.

Answers: 1 B; 2 B; 3 C; 4 B; 5 B; 6 D.


Hernando County

Bio-Rangers, Springstead High

(Overall winners)

Christine Sperlazza

Alissa Pennington

Fred Holmes

Anthony Spinuzza

Jennifer Burton

Advisers: Diane Spoelma, Lisa Dickinson, Jeff Greves

Citrus County

Hi-C, Citrus County

Homeschool Association

Rachel Harrison

Seth Ballard

Joanna Bartell

Steven Blackburn

Neil Fleming

Adviser: Rita Fleming

Pasco County


Zephyrhills High

Gregg Hilferding

Travis Thomas

James Dykins

Laura Noble

Jade Ostermann

Adviser: Terry Hilferding

Sumter County

Environmental Raiders I,

South Sumter High

April Sickman

Rebecca Connell

Angela Green

Joy Havis

Leon Williams

Adviser: Kenneth Ropp


Here are the major sponsors of the Nature Coast Regional Envirothon:

Barnett Bank

Berryman & Henigar

Browning Ferris Industries

Coastal Engineering Associates Inc.

Coastal Trophy & Sign of Crystal River

Dixie Hollins Inc.

Florida Engineering Society, Nature Coast Chapter

Florida Power Corp.

Keep Pasco Beautiful

Nature Coast Soil and Water Conservation District

Ogden Martin Systems

QPI Productions

Saint Leo College

St. Petersburg Times

Shirts & Caps Inc. of Zephyrhills

Southwest Florida Water Management District

Ted Williams Museum

Special thanks to Friends of Fort Cooper; Steve Yoczik; Lynne Marine, CF Industries; Drs. George and Patricia Dooris; Kay Adams and Pamela Gaines, Hernando County Utilities Department; Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy.

Participating agencies

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Army Corps of Engineers

Pasco County Utilities Services

Nature Coast Soil and Water Conservation District

Pasco County Soil and Water Conservation District

Department of Environmental Protection

Citrus County Planning Department

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Southwest Florida Water Management District

Division of Forestry

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission