MSGA member, Gene Surber, honored with Range Leader award

DNRC – The Governor’s Rangeland Resources Executive Committee (RREC) announced today that ranchers Bob and Debbie Gibbs of Jordan and private consultant Gene Surber of Belgrade have been chosen as recipients of the 2009 Range Leader of the Year awards.

“The Gibbses and Gene Surber are genuine leaders in the field of range management,” said Heidi Olbert, Rangeland Resources Program Specialist with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. “Their commitment to education and the principles of stewardship represents the best of Montana agriculture.”

Olbert said the Gibbs family’s two large pastures of native grassland were continuously grazed. After noticing a decline in range conditions, the couple decided it was time to consider new ways of managing their land.

“They installed cross fences and implemented a rest-rotation grazing plan,” Olbert said. “As a result, they were able to give one pasture a full season of rest from grazing each year.”

The couple also made use of “chiseling,” a low-impact form of plowing, on their rested pastures. Olbert said that technique helped break up heavy concentrations of club moss and improved soil conditions.

“Their treated pastures now have more native species, including forbs, and are more productive. Within a year they started to notice more songbirds than in previous years.”

In addition to the rangeland improvement, the Gibbses also added water developments in upland sites. That has improved grazing distribution across their pastures, and also improved the health of riparian areas on the ranch.

“It’s a great outcome for both the Gibbses and the natural resources,” said Olbert. “They are seeing heavier weaning weights for their calves, and the grasslands and riparian areas are doing great. The Gibbses wanted to improve their native rangeland, they were open to trying some new and different ideas, and it paid off.”

Gene Surber worked as the natural resource specialist in the Animal and Range Sciences Department of Montana State University from 1994 to 2006; prior that, he served for 22 years as a county agricultural extension agent in Gallatin and Park counties.

“Gene’s leadership in agriculture is unsurpassed. He has educated so many Montanans in the areas of crop production, weed control, commodity marketing and water quality,” said Olbert. “Gene coordinated the Ag Lenders School and the Western Integrated Ranch Education (WIRE) program, and has served as lead on the beef portion for the Environmental Management Systems, a national project that encouraged landowners to voluntarily address important environmental issues such as water quality. We’re lucky to have Gene in Montana.”

Bob and Debbie Gibbs and Gene Surber received their leadership awards last week in Havre during the 2010 Winter Grazing Seminar sponsored by Montana DNRC.

For more information on the Rangeland Resources Program, the Range Leader Award, or other grazing and range management efforts sponsored by DNRC, contact Heidi Olbert at (406) 444-6619, or visit the DNRC website.

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