MSU Range Club teams score big at international range management competition
BOZEMAN – For the first time in university history, a group of Montana State University agriculture students dedicated to plant identification and range management, took home a traveling national trophy, two national team titles and three first-place student awards in national exams.
The MSU Range Club, a group of 11 students focused on rangeland ecosystems and management, attended the 2018 Society for Range Management Annual Meeting held Jan. 28 – Feb. 2 in Sparks, Nevada. The club finished first in overall scoring at the event, the first time ever by an MSU club, according to organizers. The annual SRM competition included a week-long schedule of events and featured 25 universities across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The club’s performance won them the SRM Collegiate Trail Boss Award, a travelling award given to the national collegiate team with the highest aggregate score for both accomplishment and participation.
“They did extremely well and we’re so proud of these students,” said Craig Carr, assistant MSU professor of rangeland ecology and range club faculty adviser. “The overall success of the team speaks directly to our program, our curriculum and the faculty here. The fact that the entire team did so well as a collective group means that they’re working extra hard and that we’re building a strong team.”
Carr, who teaches in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences in the College of Agriculture said the students who make up the teams competed and ranked among the best in the country and beyond.
The MSU Plant Identification Team was awarded fourth place overall in the society’s Range Plant Identification Exam, a two-and-a-half-hour long exam where competitors must correctly identify 100 mounts of plants commonly found in western North America. The exam draws from 200 species of plants; those on the exam may be duplicates or presented at varying stages of growth. Out of 150 students who took the exam, only 44 students scored greater than 60 percent, according to Carr.
The MSU Undergraduate Range Management Exam team won second place overall in the society’s Under Graduate Range Management Exam. The comprehensive two-hour exam focuses on plant biogeography, vegetation, range ecology, soils, carbon sequestration, grazing management and animal nutrition. The exam is so rigorous that the top 10 percentage of students who pass, are given a waiver of the competency exam required of a professional certification in range management.
MSU adjunct professor Merrita Fraker-Marble coaches the MSU URME team and said the goal of the exam is to challenge students to apply of their knowledge from their coursework and in logical and analytical concepts during the exam.
“Many of the exam questions come directly from published research in the field, so a lot of the preparation for the exam is interpreting statistics and data to real-life examples in the field,” she said. “I’m very proud of the MSU team, they’ve shown that the curriculum and preparation we’ve given them is placing them in top percentage internationally.”
Senior Noah Davis from Ventura, California, finished first place in the range management exam as well as first place for the highest combined score between the range and plant exams.
MSU senior Noah Davis from Ventura, California, finished first place in the range management exam as well as first place for the highest combined score between the range and plant exams at the SRM Annual Meeting in Sparks, Nevada. Davis is pictured with NRCS Representative and Acting National Rangeland Mangement Specialist Charles Kneuper and SRM President (2017) Larry Howery. Photo courtesy of Gary Reese, SRM 2018 Annual Meeting
“The hardest part about the URME wasn’t the questions themselves, it was managing your time to answer all the questions in the two-hour window,” Davis said. “Equally as challenging, the plant identification exam had some mounts that didn’t look like anything I had seen before; many lacked all but one obscure identifying characteristic.”
Benjamin Roeder, a junior from Fort Shaw, finished first in the society’s Undergraduate Extemporaneous Speaking Contest. Competitors are charged with delivering a well-articulated oral presentation on a current range management topic they have been given, in a structured manner.
Club members who are on one or more of the teams practice weekly with their coaches outside of class time. Each year, the club holds a holiday fir-tree sale where the proceeds go to funding the trip to the SRM annual meeting. Performing well in the competition can provide students with the exposure and professional contacts that may help them in their future careers, according to Carr.
“It’s rare that a student will graduate this program without a job, or at least a job offer,” Carr said. “For many of these students, what they’re passionate about and what they love to study translates into employment fields that are in high demand for qualified professionals. Performing so well as a team at the national level, I hope, calls attention to the value and uniqueness of range management studies at MSU.”
Team members who competed in the URME were: Haylee Barkley, a freshman from Baker majoring in natural resources and rangeland management; Tristan Bess, a sophomore from Wilton, California, majoring in natural resources and rangeland management; Victoria Chulyak, a senior from Tehachapi, California, majoring in natural resources and rangeland management; Davis; MacKenzie Foust, a senior from Moiese majoring in natural resources and rangeland management and Nicholas Hurtz, a senior from Putnam Valley, New York, majoring in natural resources and rangeland management.
Team members who competed in the plant identification contest were: Alyson Christians, a senior from Helena majoring in natural resources and rangeland management; Barkley, Chuylak, Davis, Foust, Michael Hamel, a senior from Chester majoring natural resources and rangeland management; Hurtz; James Kramer, a freshman from Dillion majoring in natural resources and rangeland management; Rachel McKenzie, a freshman from Candby, Oregon, majoring in agricultural business and Roeder.
The Society for Range Management is the professional scientific society and conservation organization whose members are concerned with studying, conserving, managing and sustaining the varied resources of the rangelands which comprise nearly half the land in the world. Established in 1948, the society has over 4,000 members in 48 countries, including many developing nations.