Spruce Mountain High School Envirothon Team Finishes 16th at the Envirothon World Championships

Spruce Mountain High School Envirothon Team

This story and photos were provided by Spruce Mountain High School Teacher Rob Taylor (2019 Franklin County Teacher of the Year).

Do you know what a frogsickle is? Can you find the perimeter of a circular 1/250th hectare plot of forest land? Can you interpret LIDAR images to identify landforms? Do you know that manmade salt marshes work more effectively than dykes to protect shorelines from rising sea levels? These are just a few things that Spruce Mountain High School students learned as they competed in the 2023 National Conservation Foundation Envirothon in Tantramar New Brunswick, Canada from July 23rd to the 29th. The team represented Maine well, taking 16th place out of 49 teams at the competition held at Mount Allison University.

Envirothon is the world’s largest environmental science competition and students compete on field tests on Forestry, Aquatic Ecology, Wildlife Biology, Soil Science, and a Current Issue, which for 2023 was adapting to a changing climate.

The Spruce Mountain High School Team won the Maine Envirothon on June 7th at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta, earning the right to represent Maine at the National Conservation Foundation International Envirothon, which included championship teams from most US States, Canadian Provinces, China, and for the first time, Singapore. The team includes graduated seniors Abrahm Geissinger, Owen Schwab, and Dan Wilson, as well as rising seniors Leah Burgess and Brenden Veilleux. The students spent a great deal of time this summer studying, learning from natural resource professionals, solving practice problem scenarios, and working on oral presentation skills.

Brenden Veilleux plans to major in Biology in college and said, “The hours we spent learning the 700 pages of resource materials for the competition really paid off and will help me in the future.”

For graduates Geissinger, Schwab, and Wilson, this was their third consecutive trip to the world championships and Schwab said, “This was a wonderful finale to my Envirothon career.”

Geissinger added, “Envirothon has helped me both as a public speaker and as a student.”

Wilson said, “I have been able to figure out what I want to do in life from Envirothon. This program has allowed me to make lifetime connections and meet some really interesting people.” Both Wilson and Schwab will attend the University of Maine in the fall and will major in Environmental Science.

According to Team co-advisor Ken Baker, “It has been a pleasure to work with the team preparing them to compete and it was rewarding to see them get to meet other students from around the world. The level of completion was intense and the students certainly rose to the challenge.”

The team finished 16th overall with a score of 537 out of a possible 700 points. The team was 21st in Aquatics with a score of 78%, 12th in Forestry with a score of 79%, 19th in Soils with a score of 69%, 17th in Wildlife with a score of 85%, 34th in Current Issue Test with a score of 75%, and 16th in Current Issue Oral presentation with a score of 151/200.

Baker said, “The team’s 16th place finish in the Oral Presentation is particularly noteworthy. The team was able to work with a number of experts in the field of climate change prior to the completion. This really helped them with their ability to solve the problems with adapting to climate change in New Brunswick.”

The students prepared prior to the competition by meeting with Senior Climate Resilience Coordinator Brian Ambrede and Community Resilience Partnership Program Manager Ashley Krulik, both of whom work for the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. They also met with Jordan Daigle, a Spruce Mountain High School Envirothon and Harvard Alumnus who serves as an Air and Greenhouse Gas Specialist at Chevron Corporation and they were provided resources by Environmental and Resiliency Planner Zach Gosselin of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments. Brenden Veilleux said, “Working with these professionals gave us a real-world perspective on how to deal with climate change.”

The team also learned about a number of technologies including LIDAR, which makes 3-dimensional images of land forms. They also met with Senior Geo Engineer Scott Dixon at Main-land Development in Livermore Falls, who taught team members how to use special 3D stereoscopic glasses to interpret aerial photographs, in addition to reviewing information on interpreting soils. Joel Gilbert of Berry Fruit Farm and the Jay Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce met with the team to help them understand the business aspects of running a farm and farmstand, helping team members understand that sustainability requires analyzing social, environmental, and economic factors. Owen Schwab said, “It was awesome that local businesses and experts are willing to help us!”

Team member Leah Burgess said, “For me, this week of completion was a chance for our team to put our hard work to use. We managed to improve on last year’s 20th place finish, one of our major goals. The host committee from New Brunswick put on an amazing event not only for us to learn new things, but also for us to have so much fun!”

The team entered New Brunswick by ferry, visiting Campobello and Deer Islands, and saw porpoises and seals along the way. They visited places like Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park, Fundy National Park, the City of St. John New Brunswick, Irving Ecocenter: La Dune de Boutouche, and Irving Nature Park as part of the competition.

Spruce Mountain High School Envirothon Team

In the Current Issue Oral Presentation Competition, the team was provided information about the Isthmus of Tantramar in New Brunswick, which is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change and they were sequestered together in a room for 6 hours with limited resources, where they developed a plan to make the area more resilient. The team’s solution featured using salt marshes as an effective strategy to help with coastal flooding instead of building expensive dykes. Salt marshes rise with increasing sea levels, while dykes require costly regular maintenance. The plan also identified stakeholders and described how to involve local residents by listening to their concerns and helping them identify and implement resilience strategies. You can view their presentation here:

Advisor Rob Taylor said, “I am really proud of this team. Our community has had 12 teams compete in the International Envirothon program over the years and this team had the second highest finish in school history. It is great to work and live in a community that supports our young people in programs like Envirothon. It is also a pleasure to work with all the Envirothon students at Spruce Mountain High School.”

The team from Massachusetts won the competition with an amazing score of 644/700 and swept the top scores in the five subject area tests. Pennsylvania took second and won the Current Issue Oral Presentation Competition with a score of 174.67/200. The remaining teams recognized with awards for overall top ten finishes were Ontario, Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, California, New York, Tennessee, and Maryland (in order 3rd-10th). The Maine team’s 16th place score of 537/700 overall was only 21 points shy of earning a spot in the top ten.

By the way, if you are still wondering what a frogsickle is, it is not a cold treat on a summer’s day. It refers to the hibernating strategies of wood frogs that live in forests and breed in vernal pools that dry up in late summer. The frogs survive winter by lowering their body temperatures and freezing solid. One impact of climate change may be winters in the future where stretches of warm weather cause thaws followed by refreezing. This may be a problem for hibernators like wood frogs.

The team would like to thank the many local and Maine professionals, businesses, and community members who supported our trip to New Brunswick. It would not have been possible without their support.

Technical Support:

Scott Dixon – Senior Geo Engineer – Main-land Development, Livermore Falls ME

Brian Ambrette – Senior Climate Resilience Coordinator – Governor’s Office of Policy InnovaEon and the Future

Ashley Krulik – Community Resilience Partnership Program Manager – Governor’s Office of Policy InnovaEon and the Future

Jordan Daigle – Greenhouse Gas Specialist at Chevron CorporaEon

Joel Gilbert – CEO Berry Fruit Farm LLC, Chairman Jay Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce

Dale Finseth – Kennebec County Soil and Water District

Frank Lopez, Merle Ring, and Ken Lausten – Our Fearless Forestry experts!

Justin Trinqet and Nikki Leroux – JustNiks Mycosilva, LLC

Steve Gettle – Woodland Investment Services

Robin Beck – Rockin Sheep Farm


Maine Association of Conservation Districts – Maine Envirothon

Androscoggin Bank Linda Burgess
Ameriprise Financial – Michelle Maki Main-land Development
AMVETS North Star Lodge
Belinda Poland OEs Federal Credit Union
Counter Point Farm Pallet One of Maine
Debi Gagnon Ray and Audrey Henderson
Debra Hardy Timberlake Rockin Sheep Farm
Dr. William Beaker Sandy and Wynn Muller
Ellen Shaw Sappi Paper
Eloise Poland Spruce Mountain Pharmacy
Fitch Company Engineers T & L Automotive
Friends of Wilson Lake Wilton Masonic Lodge
Jay Livermore Falls Lions Club Dianne Maurais (great whoopie pies for the swap!)