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License and plant identification, please: BYU comes out on top (again)

BYU students took the lead in individual and team competition at Utah's URME test for 2022, preparing to go to the international competition in 2023.

You are looking at a pressed plant, its dark green leaves squeezed between sheets of plastic, fanned out so you can see every characteristic. You have one minute to answer these questions: What is its scientific name? What family does its species belong to? Where does the species originate? Is it native, or was it introduced to our environment?

If you do that 99 more times, you might be doing the plant identification test, a test taken along with the annual Undergraduate Range Management Examination (URME).

Competing against Utah State University, Southern Utah University, and Snow College, BYU took first place overall in the URME and plant ID competition in 2021 and 2022. BYU also took first place in the URME portion and fourth in plant identification portion at the Society for Range Management 2022 international competition.

A group of 19 university students and one professor stand smiling in casual clothes on a light brown wooden floor in front of a light brown double door frame.
Photo by Society for Range Management website

Individually, BYU students Eliza Cash, Ethan Ostraff, and Curtis Drake took the top three places in plant identification and URME combined; Cash, Drake, and Becca Black took the top three places in the URME individual test; and Cash and Ostraff took first and second place in plant identification.

“They pretty much dominated the competition,” says April Hulet of the team and individual winnings. Hulet is a BYU plant and wildlife sciences professor and the plant identification coach. While Hulet coaches the plant identification portion, professor Matthew Madsen coaches students for the overall URME, along with PWS graduate students Amber Johnson and Kyle Cook.

After the plant identification test, the students immediately took the URME, which tested their knowledge on range ecology, grazing management (how many animals a given land can support), ways to improve rangelands (such as restoration techniques after a fire), range regions around the world, and synthesizing and interpreting inventory data.

To study for the competition, plant and wildlife sciences students attend weekly team meetings and study for two hours together. Outside of the meetings, the students study for an additional two to three hours on their own per week. The local competition requires eight weeks of preparation, and for the international competition they commit to 20 weeks of study.

“It's a nationally recognized competition and if [students] want to be in the field or rangeland ecology and management, it's a really good way to get in the door,” Hulet says.