CAREYWOOD, Idaho _ Tracy Smith got involved in her school's forestry club "by accident."
Then she started having fun. She learned to identify a Douglas fir by the color of the wood -- red inside with blond streaks. She learned to read maps, handle a compass and diagnose diseased trees.
Five years later, the Post Falls High School junior was one of the veterans at Thursday's Idaho State Forestry Contest.
"That's called a canker," Smith said, pointing to a tree with a gap halfway up its trunk resembling a set of open lips.
Since she began participating in the state competition, her team has twice won top prize.
For 21 years, forestry students from throughout the state have been coming to the Delay Farm in Careywood to test their knowledge of everything from forest health to map reading.ions, trying to capture top individual prize and contribute to a team victory.
About 200 junior and high school students -- more than 20 teams -- competed at Thursday's event. Students rotated through eight different stat
As she looked at a damaged tree and tried to determine whether the culprit was animal or insect, Smith shared one of her strategies for winning.
She calls it a memory key.
To help remember names of noxious weeds, Smith made up the following sentence: "OTC excludes forage dymks as LMH decreases."
Each letter or word reminds her of the name of a noxious weed. O is for Orange Hawkweed. T stands for Tansy Ragwort.
Cody Stockman, a Post Falls eighth-grader, decided he wants to be a forest ranger or manage a forest after joining his school's forestry team.
"I love the outdoors," he said.
His team practices forestry skills two hours each week outside the middle school using logs their teacher brought in to practice log-scaling, a method of measuring logs to determine how many board feet each will yield.
Nez Perce's Neil Miller said he has learned to identify different trees.
"It's pretty fun when you're out walking around in the woods hunting and you can look at a tree and know what it is," he said.
Ray Delay, who owns Delay Farms with his wife, Fairy, said the contest was designed to teach students about forestry and introduce them to different career opportunities.
"I never had the opportunities like these kids do nowadays," Ray Delay said.
When Post Falls began competing 20 years ago, forestry teacher and coach Greg Cossette said many members of the forestry team had never even been in the forest.
He was surprised when the Post Falls team began doing so well at the state contest, especially since students were matching wits with forestry teams from areas of North Idaho with stronger timber industries.
Post Falls teams have taken top prize at the competition 10 different years. A handful of Cossette's students have gone on to forestry-related careers.
Suzanne Sawyer of the Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District helps organize the state contest. A couple of years ago, she said she volunteered to lead students from one station of the competition to the others.
"I decided I might as well take the tests," she said. "I failed miserably. The students really have to know a lot and study a lot to do well." •Taryn Brodwater can be reached at (208) 765-7121 or by email at email@example.com.