BOZEMAN – Ten members of a Montana State University club that focuses on rangeland ecosystems and management competed well at an annual competition that challenged them to demonstrate their knowledge of range management practices and plants, with one student taking the second-highest honors overall.
Two MSU Range Management Club teams – the Undergraduate Range Management Exam team and the plant identification team -- competed at the International Society for Range Management meeting in St. George, Utah, earlier this year.
Craig Carr, assistant professor of rangeland ecology in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences in the College of Agriculture and team adviser, said the students who make up the teams ranked – and competed -- among the best in the country and beyond. This year, 24 schools competed at the annual event.
MSU’s URME team won fifth place in the exam competition, which required competitors to take a comprehensive two-hour exam that covers range ecology, grazing management, range improvement, range regions, inventory and analysis, and multiple-use land. MSU adjunct professor Merrita Fraker-Marble coaches the team.
Senior Noah Davis, from Ventura, California, earned the second highest score on the URME, which he called “tough.”
“Being an undergraduate, you don't know all of the things they are asking, so you end up pulling knowledge from other areas in an attempt to piece together what answer is most reasonable,” Davis said.
The MSU Plant Identification team took eighth place in the SRM Range Plant Identification Test, which challenges students to identify up to 100 plant specimens in as many minutes, said Carr, who has coached the team for four years.
“Students study a master list of 200 different plants that are reasonably common on western rangelands from Mexico to southern Canada,” he said. “Then, they must determine whether the plant is perennial or annual; if it was introduced or native; and they need to know -- and correctly spell -- the plant’s family name, genus name and species name."
Davis placed 13th overall in the plant identification test, saying it was more challenging than the URME, but that he liked it more.
“You have 60 seconds to look at a bare twig or blade of grass that looks like a semi-truck ran over it three times, decide between 200 plants which one you think it is – sometimes based on highly obscure and subjective features -- then write down its scientific name and classification,” he said.
Based on his scores in both competitions, Davis earned second place in the Individual High Combined Awards, meaning he had the second highest combined scores of all students who competed in both the URME and plant identification contests.
“MSU's teams competed with students from universities across the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and they’re doing some good stuff,” Carr said. “Our students are in the top echelon of range science people.”
Club members who are on one or more of the teams practice weekly with their coaches. Carr said that performing well in the competition can provide students with the exposure and professional contacts that may help them in their future careers.
Team members who competed in the URME were: Loni Blackman, a senior from Cascade majoring in natural resources and rangeland ecology; Davis; Brandon Gould, of Ulm, a fall graduate in natural resources and rangeland ecology; Weston Helle, a sophomore from Dillon majoring in natural resources and rangeland ecology; Connor Hodgskiss, a senior from Choteau majoring in plant science; and John Walker, a senior from Livingston, majoring in agricultural business.
Team members who competed in the plant identification contest were: Kegen Benson, a junior from Whiteland, Indiana, majoring in natural resources and rangeland ecology; Blackman; Tori Chulyak, a junior from Tehachapi, California, majoring in natural resources and rangeland ecology; Davis; Michael Hamel, a senior from Chester majoring in natural resources and rangeland ecology; and Jessica Hickel, a senior from Billings majoring in natural resources and rangeland ecology.
Contact: Craig Carr, firstname.lastname@example.org or (406) 994-3282