After taking first in the state this past spring, the Neosho High School FFA forestry team is leaving for the national competition in Louisville, Ky., Friday.

After taking first in the state this past spring, the Neosho High School FFA forestry team is leaving for the national competition in Louisville, Ky., Friday.

The team is comprised of Nik Manley, Zayne Aldrich, Kaitlyn Sage and Megan Jones. Manley, Aldrich and Sage are seniors at Neosho High, while Jones is a freshman at Crowder College. All four have competed, and won at the national level before, but on agronomy teams.

"This is a team that Dad, er, Mr. A, had wanted to make nationals with," said Zayne Aldrich, whose father, Mike, is a vocational agriculture instructor at NHS.

Since winning state last spring, the group hasn't been resting on their reputation. Instead, they have been studying all summer and arising early each morning this fall to get to the high school at 7 a.m., where they spend nearly two hours daily studying a variety of forestry topics.

"It was hard to do that when everybody else is sleeping in," said Sage. "And we have to stay on top of our homework as well as studying for this."

The competition takes a lot of prior study. One of the individual competitor's topics is to identify 20 trees from live specimens, pressed samples, fresh leaf samples and / or standing trees. Another is to measure 10 trees for board foot volume, and students will also be asked 50 multiple-choice questions selected from areas of the forestry industry.

Another part is the interview, in which participants communicate their knowledge and opinion about national or regional forestry issues. The interview could be about any one of the following topics:

• What are the advantages and disadvantages of using timber by-products to produce fuel?

• How has the economic recession affected timber sales in your state?

• Explain forest fragmentation and the strategies used to prevent it;

• Explain invasive species, the way these species spread and how they impact forest land;

• Explain what the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Forest Stewardship Council are and what they have in common;

• What is "green" building and how has it affected timber markets in your state.

• How are endangered species protected by law?

• What are the pros and cons of clear cutting forest land?

• What are some forest pests and why is it important to control them?

• What are the negatives concerning growing genetically superior trees that have intensive cultivation and produce high yields?

Students will also go through practicums in which they make determinations on timber stand improvements or thinning, equipment identification, map interpretation, use of a compass, chainsaw part identification, tree / forest disorders, forest products, and forest business management problems.

"I wanted to be on a team where I didn't have to give verbal reasons," said Jones, a past agronomy team competitor.
The students will also take part in a team activity, in which teams will be provided with a forestry scenario utilizing elements from the individual practicums. Teams must work together using forestry skills and tools.

En route to Kentucky, the students will make several stops along the way to practice identifying trees. One of the stops will be in St. Louis at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and Arboretum.

To this end, the students may need your help. While there are only a few more days until they leave for Louisville, they still have a few more trees left to identify. These include red alder, bigtooth and quaking aspen, chestnut and southern red oak, and pitch and Ponderosa pine. If you have any of these trees in your lawn or on your property, and wish to help the students, you may call the high school at 451-8670 and press "5" for the vocational agriculture department.

"We want to thank all of our supporters, especially the foresters," Aldrich said.

"We're going for the gold," Sage added.

After high school and college, many of the students plan careers in forestry or an agricultural related field. Aldrich plans to go into conservation, while Manley will seek a career in plant science, Sage wants to be a teacher and Jones wishes to be involved in crop science.