USDA Forest Service Land Surveyor Joe McGraw is an avid outdoorsman, sports lover, dedicated father, husband, and a professionally licensed land surveyor in New York and Pennsylvania. His passion for the outdoors and teamwork suit him well for his job with the Allegheny National Forest, where he has worked since June 2016. Joe grew up in the Village of Scandia, Pennsylvania, where he spent a lot of time in the woods as a child and young adult. He was inspired by his parents’ work ethic and moral guidance and attributes many of his positive traits to their influence as well as from life experiences in high school, college sports, and outdoor activities.
What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
I spend a lot of time with my wife Linsey and our kids Curtis and Caroline when I’m not working. Both my wife and I have a lot of family living in the Warren, Pennsylvania area where we live. I enjoy hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and teaching my kids how to appreciate the outdoors. I have a special place in my heart for hiking in the Adirondack Mountains; currently, I’m working on becoming an Adirondack winter 46er.
How have your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
I’m very comfortable in the woods, probably more so than being indoors. Like many surveyors, I had a great mentor who taught me the value of land surveying from early on in my career. The college education I received gave me a solid foundation to begin my surveying career with the Forest Service.
Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you're currently working on.
Right now I am working on a number of trespass and encroachment issues on our forest that require a great deal of communication with private land owners. One of my collateral duties is as a contracting officer representative, where I’m overseeing surveying boundary contract task orders. This requires me to assess all land line boundary needs for upcoming timber sales on both ranger districts.
Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.
Last fall I was given the opportunity to work on a very large engineering survey-related project on forest roads needing repair. The survey area encompassed a large majority of major recreation sites on the Allegheny National Forest. I knew that this project was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I jumped at the chance. I completed this survey work independently with the use of two Trimble survey grade Global Navigation Satellite System receivers and a Trimble robotic total station. This work would typically require a two- to three-person survey crew and could not have been accomplished if not for the investment the Allegheny National Forest made in this new technology.
Why do you think your career field is important?
An absence of surveying and marking of national forest boundaries would make any resource activity nearly impossible. The delineation of our Forest Service boundaries is critical to the public’s use of the land and helps immensely in avoiding trespass, encroachment and timber theft issues on Forest Service land.
What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your career field?
It can be a very difficult task for one person to manage over 500,000 acres of Allegheny National Forest land boundaries, a lot of which is mixed with private ownership. In addition to managing our land boundaries, I assist engineering with topographic surveys for culvert/bridge replacements; the Allegheny National Forest oil and gas program with deed review and title work; and the land’s program with land and right-of-way acquisitions and special use permitting ownership and title issues.
What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?
When funding is available, I’m able to contract boundary survey land line work on the national forest when the work is directly related to resource activity. I have also started the process of scanning our old land records for quicker access and to help preserve records, some of which are nearing 100 years old. I rely heavily on our Geographic Information System database in managing the national forest’s boundary and land line needs.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I believe that when the public, local government agencies, Forest Service employees, and Forest Service leadership work together and engage in shared stewardship, everyone can find common ground and gain a better understanding of how we as public servants are striving to make the Allegheny National Forest better for the community and better for the forests as a whole.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
If you enjoy the outdoors and want to help manage public land and conserve the forest and natural resources for future generations, the USDA Forest Service is a great and rewarding place to work.