Smith retires after long teaching career
Laramie – After nearly 36 years of teaching, researching and being a part of University of Wyoming Extension focusing on assessment and monitoring, grazing management and behavior and livestock systems, professor Mike Smith is retiring.
Smith’s experience and commitment to various research opportunities over the years has had him dealing with rangeland issues such as managing wild horses, riparian management problems, forage productivity as related to seasonal precipitation and changing calving dates to late spring to just name a few.
Some of Smith’s more recent work has been with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, conducting presentations and helping with drought management planning programs.
Through all of Smith’s teaching, research and Extension work, he has met and worked with some incredible people all along the way.
“I can’t help but emphasize how much I’m going to miss working with ranchers, folks from various agencies and, of course, the Extension people I’ve worked with for so many years around the state,” says Smith.
“It’s a whole shift in life to not be talking to those folks all the time now,” he adds.
Once retired, Smith’s plans consist of traveling with his wife throughout Wyoming and being involved with a few rangeland management consulting opportunities, as well.
“I’m looking forward to summer and the fall and having more time to get out to camp, hike and chase after some elk,” states Smith.
“It’s always entertaining to look back on the number of students that I’ve taught over the years and see how many of them are still working out in the state with agencies, are ranchers or are involved with some other type of professional activity,” comments Smith.
When asked about the most challenging part of his career, Smith replies, “In the short term, it’s hard to see the progress that is being made.”
He continues that, over the long run, things start moving in the direction managers want, which is when progress is more apparent.
“There’s been a significant shift in focus in the rangeland management arena over the years,” states Smith.
From strictly trying to raise more cow feed to the much broader issue of overall ecosystem management, incorporating wildlife and recreational values with other kinds of land uses into rangeland management, Smith marks a general trend of change within the subject area.
“We are not just in the business of trying to raise cows anymore, but instead, we’re trying to manage the overall system so it meets the contemporary needs of society,” he continues.
“We are making progress, but there’s still a long way to go,” comments Smith. “More people need to get involved in monitoring rangelands because it can mean so much to them, particularly to their public land grazing permits.”
Changing calving dates
Along with teaching students, Smith has also been part of numerous research projects.
One of his favorites dealt with changing the traditional time period of calving.
“One of the most interesting projects I’ve been involved with was from the grant I received from the Sustainable Agriculture Program to look at the benefits of calving in the late spring,” explains Smith, “as opposed to calving in the middle of the winter like a lot of people do in the West.”
Smith notes that this project really made a significant shift to his thinking process as it relates to the overall business of rangeland and livestock management and the integration of those two areas.
The research showed late spring calving facilitates integration of livestock management system practices into rangeland management by synchronizing livestock nutritional needs with the seasonal ability of the range to provide those resources.
Publication and awards
Through the years Smith has been awarded prestigious range management awards and has been published nearly 200 times in various newspapers, bulletins from UW and scientific journals.
Awards Smith has received include an achievement award and the Fellow Award from the Society for Range Management (SRM). The Wyoming Section SRM presented a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association presented Smith the Outstanding Range Professional Award.
USDA Forest Service Wyoming and Range Service Team recognized Smith and associates for assisting with a permittee monitoring program on the Bighorn Forest.
Choosing range management
Smith has been involved with range management since he was a child growing up on a ranch in central Texas. When deciding on a major to declare at college he knew that he wanted to incorporate ranching and agriculture into his academic career.
He tried looking at wildlife management and animal science, but they just didn’t seem feasible to him. Smith only knew one person who had a job at the time in wildlife management, and after growing up on a ranch raising cows, sheep and goats, he figured he already knew enough about that.
“The third thing that came to mind that still had to do with ranching and agriculture that I could understand then was rangeland management,” declares Smith. “I started out in college with a major of rangeland management, and I’ve never left.”
Journey to UW
University of Wyoming professor Mike Smith started college at a smaller school in Stephenville, Texas and then later transferred to Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas to finish his undergraduate degree.
While at Texas Tech, Smith had a summer job with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) that gave him some practical experience in what range management was all about at the time.
“Once I graduated, I spent three years in the Army. When I came back from the Army, I didn’t have a job with the NRCS anymore, but I did have an offer to go to graduate school at Texas Tech,” says Smith.
After finishing his graduate degree, Smith went on to gain his PhD at Utah State studying food habits of deer in relationship to livestock grazing. Once Smith obtained his PhD, he returned to Texas and taught for two years at Angelo State University.
“It was during my second year at Angelo State when I saw a position at UW had become available, so I applied for it. UW was in the process of creating the Range Management Department at the time, and I thought that was a good thing,” comments Smith. “I came to UW, and I’ve been here ever since.”