Student Stories: Forest research opens students' eyes

Ashlee Early, a 2007 Forest Science graduate of Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, remembers trudging through the forest with data sheets in hand and the thick tree canopy overhead. Her coworkers a few hundred feet ahead were carrying a GPS unit and a metal detector.

She measured an oak tree they had located and marked, as well as trees and stumps nearby, for their height, diameter and age. She carefully recorded the information and moved on to the next trees the students ahead had identified for her.

The Huntingdon native and other students measured tree growth summer day after summer day as part of an oak-regeneration study on state forestland in central Pennsylvania. The research is two decades old and is continuing this summer with a new set of students.
Most mornings, Early recalls, 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," she said. "We put in long days, but it wasn't all work."
Crew leader Benjamin Gamble, who currently is pursuing a Forest Science master's degree at Penn State, remembers that the students spotted many interesting things in the woods, such as rare plant species, coyotes, bears and a huge honeybee colony within a black oak tree.
"We could smell honey from 30 feet away, and I volunteered to measure the tree," said Early. "It was pretty nerve-wracking, but it was also quite a rush."
Despite having to deal with thick patches of thorny 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, said Gamble, a native of Williamsport.
"The reward was the peaceful landscape that we got to work in," he said.
"I had the woods as my office -- how cool is that?" said Early. "We learned that oaks aren't coming back like they used to; they are being replaced by less-valuable red maples. If the oaks disappear, not only does it affect us economically, but it hurts the wildlife populations that rely on the acorns for food."
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Last Updated November 18, 2010