At last, summer! Defined by longer days, warmer weather, and the occasional (or currently, common) thundershower. Nothing could be truer for those of us scattered around the state forests surveying ALL of the plants that grow there.  

Meet the veg crew. We put the Forest in The Deer-Forest Study!

Make no mistake about it; this is as tough of a job as any. It takes a lot of man (and woman) hours to survey vegetation. Not only do our crews have to learn to recognize and record more than 200 species of flora, but they must also hike to randomly-located plots to find those species. Fortunately, (and sometimes unfortunately!), plants don’t move.

In a project that encompasses tens of thousands of acres, this means a lot of “hiking” (aka bushwhacking) to carefully chosen locations across each study area to do plant surveys. In a given week our crews will walk more area off-trail than on it.

It’s exhausting, but by far one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever had. 

As you can imagine, it takes a small army of people to survey the vegetation for this study. There are 3 teams of 4 people, 1 group in the Susquehannock State Forest, and two in the Rothrock and Bald Eagle State Forests. The second crew in Rothrock and Bald Eagle works directly with me doing some additional work like taking soil samples and photos of the canopy. The other two crews survey plots daily, visiting more than 100 sites in 3 months and recording everything that grows there.

We also have two botanists—Eric Burkhart and Chris Firestone—who help train crews the first two weeks they are employed with us. Training is a refresher in Pennsylvania plant ID and a crash course in the field protocol. By the end, crews are fully functional independent entities ready for 3 months of whatever Penn’s Woods can throw at them.

All 11 technicians plus myself (far right kneeling), Chris Firestone (far left standing), Eric Burkhart (2nd from left standing), and Brennan Holderman (left kneeling – database manager for the project) on the final day of training in the Susquehannock State Forest.

Here are some photos from this year’s training session in the Rothrock, Bald Eagle, and Susquehannock State Forests. Once again we have an excellent group of technicians (11 in total!) that will provide excellent 2016 data for the project.

Training wasn’t all about the plants! This American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) is nestled among some wood fern.

Ryan Klinedinst, Teanna Kobuck, and Aaron Reardon listen to a botany lesson from Eric Burkhart in the Susquehannock State Forest.


What a find! Ryan and Silvio found this shed (both together!) while hiking to a plot in the Susquehannock State Forest.

And, spoiler alert: More photos and a new installment called the Veg Crew Diaries coming soon!

-Danielle Begley-Miller
Ph.D. graduate student 
Department of Ecosystem Science and Management
PA Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit




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