Brian is a staff scientist for CH2M HILL, a global engineering and design firm based in Englewood, Colorado.

Brian is a wetlands biologist who works with CH2M HILL’s geographic information system (GIS) team. Together, they determine the best sites for renewable energy projects, such as wind farms.

EARLY WORK

Growing up in rural Mason, Michigan, Brian was exposed to the outdoors at a young age. “I grew up in the countryside,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in nature and biological processes. Basically, I guess what kick-started some of the interest [in biology] is I used to build birdhouses in my dad’s shop.”

Brian learned about how people manage the environment by interacting with his uncle, a farmer. “That probably had a pretty big influence on me, because I would hang out there a lot and see how they managed the cattle and help with the cows,” he says. “I kind of understood the connection to the earth through the agricultural practices they were doing.”

Brian originally studied information technology while attending the University of Colorado at Boulder. Later, he focused on biology. The switch in majors was due in part to his experiences during Semester at Sea, a study-abroad program.

“I was able to really see what people are doing to the environment and how we are really overusing the planet’s capability to sustain ourselves,” he says.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“I think ... going to see new places and really getting to know places that no one else gets to see.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

Brian says it is difficult to keep up with ever-changing regulations. National, state, and local regulations determine what type of structures can be built in a specific zone.

“I have to know the environmental regulations regarding wetlands and know how to advise the client with how things should be done,” he says. “And how the regulators are likely going to respond to what they see constructed.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

Engineers “treat geography as a constraint and a resource,” Brian says “We look at it as something in context with the environmental and the social landscape.”

GEO-CONNECTION

Brian says geography is critical to his work from start to finish. “Basically, I use geography before I even go out to the field to look at the site or do a field study of any kind,” he says. “We get on the computer and look at topographic maps, aerial maps. We use geographic information systems (GIS) like ArcGIS and AutoCAD to map out what we are looking at.”

In the field, Brian uses a global positioning system (GPS) to document the outer boundaries of wetlands and streams.

When working with a developer to create a renewable energy project, Brian says the geography of the proposed site is very important. “We take a place or location in context with what a developer wants to place on top of it,” he says.

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . BIOLOGIST

Brian suggests taking a walk with a botanist, someone who studies plants, or an ornithologist, someone who studies birds.

“Some of the helpful stuff that I’ve done over the past few years . . . that I wish I had done more as a younger person would be to really get out with people who are really experts in their field,” he says. “Get out with a birder that really knows the local birds and can teach you. You get binoculars, and you just walk around with them identifying things, looking at your books.”

GET INVOLVED

Brian says that volunteering for a trail-maintenance project is a great way to unearth enthusiasm for the outdoors. “I think the key to create interest,” he says, “is when people are really enjoying being in nature.”

Wetlands Biologist: Brian Lee

Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

aerial imagery
Noun

photographs, maps, and other visual information based on visual data taken from high in the atmosphere, usually in a plane.

Noun

the art and science of cultivating land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

ArcGIS
Noun

Geographic information software created by the company ESRI.

AutoCAD
Noun

software program used by engineers, geographers, and other professionals to help design and model land areas and build infrastructure.

biologist
Noun

scientist who studies living organisms.

biology
Noun

study of living things.

botanist
Noun

person who studies plants.

cattle
Noun

cows and oxen.

critical
Adjective

very important.

engineering
Noun

the art and science of building, maintaining, moving, and demolishing structures.

enthusiastic
Adjective

excited.

environment
Noun

conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

farmer
Noun

person who cultivates land and raises crops.

Noun

any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

Noun

study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

Global Positioning System (GPS)
Noun

system of satellites and receiving devices used to determine the location of something on Earth.

ornithology
Noun

study of the biology and behavior of birds.

regulation
Noun

rule or law.

renewable energy
Noun

energy obtained from sources that are virtually inexhaustible and replenish naturally over small time scales relative to the human life span.

resource
Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

rural
Adjective

having to do with country life, or areas with few residents.

topographic map
Noun

map showing natural and human-made features of the land, and marked by contour lines showing elevation.

unearth
Verb

to dig up.

Noun

area of land covered by shallow water or saturated by water.

Noun

kinetic energy produced by the movement of air, able to be converted to mechanical power.