Thursday, December 16, 2010

SRM Spotlight: Dan Macon, California-Pacific Section

By Julia Workman, SRM Outreach Intern
“Since I’ve started ranching, I haven’t had as much time to volunteer with SRM,” admits Dan Macon, past president of the California-Pacific Section and current owner of Flying Mule Farm in the foothills northeast of Sacramento. There, in Placer and Nevada counties, they raise mostly sheep, and market grass-fed lamb and beef to restaurants and other consumers. Before the farm was founded in 2001, Dan had a variety of careers, starting with an Agricultural and Managerial Economics degree at the University of California-Davis. After graduation, he worked with the California Cattleman’s Association on federal land policy, endangered species concerns, and range management issues. He also helped start—and served as the first executive director of—the California Rangeland Trust (CRT). After that, he worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and then a local land trust.
Dan enjoys reading and camping and is very interested in wildlife. Fly-fishing is another favorite activity when he has the time. Despite the relative inactivity he claims now, he has also been quite involved in SRM since he joined fifteen years ago. Besides serving on the California-Pacific Section board and as the Range Excellence Committee Chair, he has served as Section President in 2001 and received the Ranch Manager of the Year award.
Professional development was Dan’s reason for joining SRM: the Society gave him a chance to gain some technical knowledge of rangeland management since he did not have much background in the field. He says he liked—and likes—that SRM brings together the science and art involved in managing rangelands, and that SRM is the only professional group to bring an ecosystem approach to range management. Looking back, he says that the education he has received through SRM has been very valuable in his career, along with the opportunity to make connections with other professionals. Another strength of the Society, he says, is its ability to make available information to make ranching operations more sustainable and economically viable.
Dan says he was at the forefront of a demographic change among students interested in rangeland management. When he was a student, the profession was beginning to see a shift away from those with agricultural backgrounds—a change which is evident in SRM membership. Dan says that this movement has given range managers a great opportunity to collaborate with other professions and will make the profession stronger in the long run: “diversity is a good thing” when it provides a group with more perspectives and backgrounds.
According to Dan, it is important to bring new and experienced members together. He says that meaningful involvement for young members consists of more than speaking contests, and that direct, hands-on experience with professionals is vital for the professional development of members early in their career. It also provides an opportunity for both young and old to learn from each other. He would like to see more recent college graduates taking on internships on farms and ranches, and SRM continuing to take a bigger role in that: “Opportunities go beyond programs at universities. The professional knowledge is very important.”
Natural resources- and agriculture-related professions, Dan says, will continue to undergo a profound change as interest in local food production for national security increases. He believes that rangeland management is following the same trends as agriculture in that the interest in both has skipped a generation or two, but a new generation is now receptive to SRM’s approach to rangeland management; SRM just needs to reach them. He sees a bit of a struggle in the Society as perceptions of rangelands shift, and believes that SRM will best attract new members in the future by staying relevant. Efforts to broaden outreach to the upcoming generation, while providing professional development opportunities relevant to the public, ranchers, and communities, will be important in achieving this goal.
Dan’s great hope for SRM is that it continues to diversify its membership along a spectrum of ages and backgrounds. He would like to see it recognized as a place for scientific debates and a safe environment for discussions between ranchers and environmental groups.
He also hopes that younger members will get involved by attending section and parent society meetings—but “not going and passively participating: getting involved!” The field tours, he says, are critical and counsels that younger members should seek out more experienced members at these events to get help, information, and mentorship. He concludes with a lesson he has learned from his own diverse background: “Find a way to do what you love!”

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