Deer-Forest Study

Pennsylvania forests face many challenges – invasive plants, insect outbreaks, soil acidity, tree diseases, and even deer. This study is being conducted to better understand the role of deer in the context of all these challenges and to help Pennsylvania’s forest and wildlife managers better manage deer and the forest.

Why would a “wildlifer” take a job surveying plants?

Purple Trillium

It all started one evening in my forest herbs class. My friend and professor, Eric Burkhart, pitched the job to the class before lecture. Penn State was hiring people for vegetation surveys in Rothrock, Bald Eagle, and Susquehannock State Forests as a part of their Deer-Forest Study. Although Eric successfully turned some of us into plant nerds, none of us bit on this opportunity. I wasn’t interested until after the second solicitation, made over a couple beers at our favorite tavern. After learning more about the study, I put the pieces together and understood how I would obtain greater ecological insight into one of the great problems that Pennsylvania faces.

Field Forest Technician

Danielle and I surveying a sub-plot

I accepted a position working with Danielle Begley-Miller at Penn State as a field forest technician, where I supported her project within the Deer-Forest Study. Our field seasons were spent in Rothrock and Bald Eagle State Forests. Each day, we would navigate the ridge and valley landscape to locate and establish permanent control and treatment plots. My primary duty was to survey herbaceous plants and trees within these plots by collecting data on species composition and abundance. Additionally, I estimated deer impact using Forest Inventory Analysis protocols prescribed by the U.S. Forest Service, captured canopy photos, and acquired soil samples.

The Experience

Timber rattlesnake
A very large indian cucumber root

The days afield were physically demanding yet rewarding at the same time. Ten plus hour days hiking up and down ridge tops in all sorts of weather will certainly build character. You either love it or hate it. We put in four day work weeks but I was the guy that returned to the state forest for a Friday hike. Honestly, I was tired at the end of every day but I could never get enough. My daily commute was driving down dirt roads and my office was the forest. The views upon the ridge tops were spectacular. Wildlife sightings were an everyday occurrence – we saw just about everything. And sometimes we got ourselves into some sticky situations…

No Joke, I see the Bear!
Bull Hollow

The Takeaway

Danielle’s crew for the first season — Me, Adrian, and Danielle

Two field seasons and then some working with Danielle and the Deer-Forest Study contributed to my growth personally and professionally. This was the first job of my new career in wildlife and natural resources. The experience prompted me not only to think like a biologist but also to view the landscape as an ecologist. Forever, this changed the was I approached my career. Moreover, working for Penn State opened many doors for me. My network grew and I gained many friends and professional relationships. Opportunity for research, employment, and even grad school resulted from this endeavor.


For More Information on the Deer-Forest Study