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The Value of Fieldwork

While scrolling through my news feed I came upon a wonderful interview with one of my idols, Jane Goodall. During this interview she reminded me of the importance of fieldwork experience. It is her belief that while education in school is very important, it does not compare to the value of the education you get when you are actually in the field doing the work.

This was a lesson ingrained in me while attending Kent State University. I attended several courses taught by Dan Ross who, in every one of those courses, drilled into us the importance of "getting your boots on the ground." He taught us that you can study all of the books, maps and aerial photos you want, but until you go out to the site you don't know what is truly out there. A soil map may tell you what is supposed to be out there, but they are only accurate up to a certain degree and a soil test may need to be performed. Our planet is a dynamic system and environmental conditions are constantly changing, where once there was a wetland it may now be dry and vice versa. Have stream bank conditions changed since the last evaluation or aerial photo? Assumptions can be made about what kinds of plant and wildlife should be on a site based on the known habitat, soils, etc., but what is ACTUALLY out there is relatively unknown unless you go out to the site and make observations. And to further drill this concept into us over half of the course would consist of us being outside doing field work.

These are some of the many reasons why we at the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District are so hands on. Whether it be for site inspections, stream assesments, education, landowner assistance, etc., there is at least one of us out there in the field on almost any given day. Some personal examples come to mind. I received a wildlife complaint from a landowner about damage to his property caused by beavers. Instead of just giving him some advice over the phone on how to handle this issue, Brian and I went out to the landowner's property to assess the situation. What they thought was beaver activity turned out to be a rotted out tree and a small natural log jam which could be resolved much more simply and less expensively. When doing a stormwater inspection one of the things we look for and often call sites out on in reports is the improper installation of silt fencing or damaged silt fencing. More often than not it seems that resolving this problem gets put on the back burner, but it is that one occassion when you are out on-site with the project manager, when weather conditions are right, that they can see the practice actively failing and they can see the damage that is actively occurring as a result. Then suddenly things get fixed.

It is these field experiences and the many years of fieldwork that have really taught me the most. So thank you to all of the the people from the time I was little for giving me the amazing and fun field experiences and love of nature that has shaped me into ther person I am today and will be in the years to come.

Blog Author: Kelly Parker, Urban Conservationist

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