Posted by Nick Matzke on September 23, 2004 10:35 PM

This isn’t evolution, but it is biology related.

During and after college, I spent several summers working for the Oregon State University Forestry Department, Forest Sciences lab, and for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.  Many of these jobs involved some combination of measuring trees, surveying vegetation, and otherwise being ecological.  It was great fun, and I think that it’s hard to really understand biology unless you’ve really spent some time out in the field not just hiking around, but carefully examining and identifying some of the ridiculous number of organisms out there.

So anyway, some guy in an office with a GIS (Geographic Information System) usually sets up the survey scheme.  Sometimes the survey points are on a regular grid, sometimes they are stratified random, etc.  Generally, you get handed a list of latitude/longitude coordinates, and have to go out and get to them guided by maps, air photos, and a GPS, and taking care to deal with the various barriers — private land (call up the owner to get permission, or he might shoot you), clearcuts (walk on top of the logs, don’t slip off you might break your neck), poison oak (I’m immune, heh heh heh), Devil’s Club (look before you grab, there are like a million needlelike thorns per square inch), cliffs, rivers, mud, interesting plants to identify, etc.  It’s all rather glorious, actually.  We once had a plot located about 500 feet down a cliff above the John Day River in eastern Oregon (we scratched that one off the list as a “hazard plot”).

Apparently a Forest Service vegetation survey crew in Montana had a really remote location, and were getting flown in.  But the plane they were in crashed.  Read this news story from Tuesday.  Then, read this news story from today.  Amazing.