Montana Range Days featured variety of activities
Sunshine and light breezes blessed the 34th annual Montana Range Days at Miles City June 14-16, although evening showers forced campers to move their tents under cover. Over 350 people enrolled in the event, choosing to attend workshops, contests or tours as they wished.
Jan Pratt, host committee chairman, reported that all went well this year, thanks to experience gained from hosting last June and the expertise of the MRD State Steering Committee whose members showed up to help put on the final touches. The event will be held in Deer Lodge next June 13-15.
A tour along the Tongue River featured Roger Muggli citing the history and use of the T&Y Irrigation Diversion structure. Muggli also explained the fish bypass structure there. Dr. Kurt Reinhart, Fort Keogh ARS, led a range ecology tour, noting minute components of the range ecosystem such as red harvester ants and thatch ants. Kent Undlin, BLM biologist, discussed management of the Pumpkin Creek BLM property.
The cooking crew, under the direction of Debbie Beardsley, worked long hours to prepare breakfast by 6 a.m. and send lunches to the field workshops. Montana beef donated by the Tongue River Cattlewomen was served at the banquet, and a new pork product was featured in a meal sponsored by the Montana Pork Producers. Lamb raised by Hofeldt Feed Lot Lamb Feeders of Chinook was especially tasty. Montana Woolgrowers’ member Brent Roeder of Fort Shaw oversaw the roasting process and highly recommends Hofeldt fed lamb.
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Plant identification remains the key to any discussion of range management, and MRD participants had several opportunities to get to know southeastern Montana plants. One of the six rotating workshops focused on plant ID, while another focused on plant anatomy. Attendees determined to make the most of Range Days studied at the practice site even after a long day of workshops.
“Teaching people how to assess overall range health is my main goal”, said Jon Siddoway, NRCS State Range Conservationist. Jon and about 50 other range professionals led the workshops and tours. They represented private businesses and agencies including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Land Management, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Fort Keogh Agriculture Research Service and Montana State University.
Local ranchers Don Griffin (Ismay), Pat O’Neill (Terry), and Walt Borntrager (Glendive) served as “instructors” of the range planning workshop. They shared personal insight into range management on their operations and stressed the importance of livestock water development, cross fencing, and monitoring range condition.
Elementary aged students joined groups named Buckaroos, Ecosystem Explorers, Superstarters and Wranglers. Katrina Lannen of Clyde Park is a veteran instructor of the youngest group, Buckaroos. She and the rest of the Buckaroo staff planned activities to introduce little ones ages 4-6 to natural resource management. Carol Hilliard, Broadus, instructed the 7-8 year olds for the first time. “These nine little girls are really intent on learning about range,” Hilliard remarked as the girls played in the sand and water of the “Rolling Rivers” educational exhibit.
A unique part of Montana Range Days is the Illustrated Talks contest, where students research a range-related topic and present their information. Alexandria Nelson of Harlowton, a newcomer to MRD, shared knowledge of weeds she identifies and sprays as part of her employment with the county weed control crew. Judges for the contest were Dr. Mark Peterson, Fort Keogh ARS, Jim Hill, Stockman Bank/Miles City, Dave Kelsey, Molt, and Terry Haughian, Terry.
FFA students from Chief Washakie High School in Worland, Wyoming each spoke, hoping to earn points toward top MRD awards. The youngest presenter, 11-year-old Jonathan Wright of Circle, MT, showed how the mouth and stomach structure of domestic and wild grazing animals determines what range plants they forage on.
Alyssa Wolenetz of Ekalaka was one of many students who left the dance early the night before the contest in order to study. Her work paid off when she was awarded the Top Greenhand award – a Montana Silversmith’s belt buckle.
Brandon Gould, Ulm, Montana, earned the Top Rangehand award buckle for points earned in the plant collection and display contests as well as the illustrated talks and range management tests. Loni Blackman, Wolf Creek, presented the winning Illustrated Talk about pine beetles on her family’s ranch. Other top awards were: Jakim Ricketts, Livingston, Top Superstarter; Ben Roeder, Fort Shaw, Top Wrangler; Casey Hereim, Judith Gap, Top Open Youth, and Alissa Wolenetz, Ekalaka, Top FFA Youth.
The top two range plant collections were entered by Loni Blackman, Wolf Creek, and Sunny Gaughen, Alzada. The top two weed collections were entered by Chase Anderson, Miles City, and Brandon Gould, Ulm, Montana.
The Shields Valley FFA won first place in team competition with members Conner Rose, Shawn Stutterheim, Brock Street, and Carmen George. The top Open Youth team members were Andrew and Brandon Gould, Ulm; Sunny Gaughen, Alzada; and Alexandria Nelson, Harlowton. Ron Anderson of Ismay was first place in the Rancher Division, and Crystal Gates of Hysham won the Open Adult Division.
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