Seeing the Forest

ForestRegenCrewThe tree canopy overhead is thick as senior Ashlee Early trudges through the forest with data sheets in hand. Her coworkers a few hundred feet ahead are carrying a GPS unit and a metal detector. She begins to measure a tree they have located and marked, as well as trees and stumps nearby, for their height, diameter and age. She then writes an entry on her data sheets and moves on to the next trees identified by the students ahead.

The Huntingdon, Pa. native and other students performed this job day after day in summer 2007 as part of an oak regeneration study. They are conducting research on tree growth on state forestland in the central third of the state.

Most mornings, the students met at the University Park campus and drove to study sites. "The plot finders would take a metal detector and a GPS unit to find pins locating the plots," says Early, a forest science major. "We put in long days, but it wasn't all work."

Crew leader and senior Benjamin Gamble says there were many interesting things in the forest that the students spotted, such as rare plant species, coyotes, bears, and a honeybee colony within a black oak tree. "We could smell honey from 30 feet away, and I volunteered to measure the tree," says Early. "It was pretty nerve wracking, but it was also quite a rush."

Despite having to deal with thick patches of raspberries and blackberries, occasionally having to spend the whole day in the rain, being snapped at by black snakes and bothered by bugs, it was worth it, believes Gamble, a native of Williamsport. "The reward is the peaceful landscape that we get to work in," says the forest science major.

"I got to have the woods as my office--how cool is that?" Early says. "Oaks aren't coming back like they used to; they are starting to be replaced by less-valuable red maple. If the oaks disappear, not only does it affect us economically, but it hurts the wildlife populations that rely on the acorns."

---Penn State Science for Your Life, Spring 2007