Alumni Spotlight: Brian Huberty '82 '89

The University of Minnesota’s central location and diverse landscape of forests, waters, agriculture, mining, and urban developments made an “invaluable outdoor classroom” for Brian Huberty. Huberty’s education at the University of Minnesota has prepared him for a fascinating career that has led him across the country facilitating resource assessment for the agricultural, forestry and environmental sectors. Huberty says he had never imagined his career would remain focused on resource assessment, but credits the U for having the best forestry inventory and remote sensing program in the world that was was able to lay the groundwork for how best to quantify forest resources.

Name: Brian Huberty
Degrees/ Majors: B.S. Forest Resources, M.S. Forestry
Grad Year: 1982, 1989
Advisor(s): Alan Ek, Merle Meyer, Marvin Bauer
Current organization/ employer: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Favorite memory of campus:

The field stations at Itasca State Park and the Cloquet Forestry Center. Both locations provided an invaluable outdoor 'classroom' to better understand the world we live in.

Why did you choose CFANS as a college?

Ben Thoma, former Itasca State Park naturalist and Willmar Community College biology instructor helped guide me towards the University of Minnesota since I had wanted to get into some sort of a forestry program during high school. The College of Forestry at the time was one of the top five rated programs in the country so it was an easy decision at the time to transfer into the program.

Why do you think the University of Minnesota is great?

The University of Minnesota is situated at the center of the continent in a diverse landscape of forests, waters, agriculture, mining and urban developments. All of these combined reflect on the diversity of academic programs which also includes a diversity of local to international students and faculty. And being a Land Grant University helps quite a bit.

What are some professional achievements you have been proud of since graduating from the U?

After graduating in '82, I ended up 'counting trees' for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources up in Cook County, NE Minnesota by snowshoeing into remote areas miles from the nearest road. The next year was spent at Norris Camp south of Baudette and Warroad, MN where your worst fear is not coming across wolves or bears but running out of insect repellent! Both areas had their unique and memorable challenges.

The forest inventory program ended in the summer of 1984 where I switched over to working for the U.S. Geological Survey, EROS Data Center; near Sioux Falls, SD. There I worked on creating digital maps to interpreting aerial photos for a variety of projects for a couple years. The facility in the middle of the cornfields northeast of town was a fantastic place to be exposed to the cutting edge of analog and digital remote sensing.

It became apparent I needed to go back for a M.S. degree so by chance, I was funded by a combined MN DNR and U of MN project to help take small format aerial photography for the DNR during the summer while taking classes at the University during the winter. I ended up running the program before the MN DNR was able to hire Bill Befort a couple years later. By far flying over Minnesota taking small format aerial photography was one of my most enjoyable experiences.

After graduation, I ended up working for Mike Hoppus who was a college classmate with Bill Befort at the University of Idaho. Mike ran the remote sensing instruction program at the Forest Service's national remote sensing center. Just imagine your semester long aerial photo interpretation and remote sensing course crammed into one week. That is what we did about once a month teaching USFS personnel around the country. This also included using GPS (which was unknown at the time) for some unique projects.

After a couple years of teaching, I was recruited to work for a private forest inventory/aerial photo company in Oregon for a couple years. This included taking small format aerial photography for USDA over Oregon and Washington along with co-developing the NASTEK sunglasses for plant stress detection.

The spotted owl crisis hindered stability so I returned back to the Midwest to work for nearly a decade in the 1990's for what was the regional office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The was a high level, oversight and strategic planning position for administering their Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) and reports for USDA. One of the most interesting aspect then was working with Textron, Monsanto and CaseIH developing the beginnings of precision agriculture using remote sensing. And one of the more fulfilling conferences that I co-chaired at the time was The First (and Last) North American Symposium on Small Format Aerial Photography which was held at the Cloquet Forestry Center. For what was intended to be a small 30 person meeting with the Canadians ended up with 100 people from around the world. To this day, I still get compliments on this unique conference. The reason it was the last was due to the transition to digital cameras which started a few years later.

An opportunity was created to return to Minnesota to resurrect the regional wetland inventory program for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service which was once one of the more innovative federal mapping programs in the 1980's. Through some substantial support by the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund to the Minnesota DNR and through collaboration, we have nearly finished updating the decades old National Wetlands Inventory Maps for all of Minnesota with substantial help by the University of Minnesota, Ducks Unlimited and St. Mary's University.

Through thoughtful support by the Midwest Region, I have been able to establish a remote sensing program within the Fish & Wildlife Service. This included gaining access for Service and partners to 1) submeter optical satellite imagery through the U of MN Polar Geospatial Center and the National Geospatial-intelligence Agency; 2) radar satellite imagery through the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing; 3) radar satellite imagery through the Japanese Space Program.

In 2011, I co-chaired the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Annual Conference in Milwaukee. In 2016, I was able to be a lead contributor to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Earth Observation Assessment.

I had never imagined my career would remain focused on resource assessment for the agriculture, forestry and environmental sectors. My success would not have been possible without the academic, government, military and business support from all my remote sensing professionals around the world.

What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field?

The bird's eye view whether it is from a drone, aircraft or satellite. I enjoy looking at our past and present landscapes to see how they are structured and how they are changing. For the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, this is particularly important since our changing landscapes reflects on the diversity of fish and wildlife habitats now and into the future.

How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today?

Back in the 1980's, the University had the best forest inventory and remote sensing program in the World. The professors and programs were able to lay the groundwork for how best to quantify our forest resources.

What advice do you have for current students (and future alumni)?

Turn off the smartphone and walk into the middle of a forest, a former prairie, a city, or sail into the middle of a lake or river. Stop, listen, observe and touch (except for the case of a porcupine or poison ivy) the world around you. Then go to your local airport and get a ride in a small airplane and fly around the state and region to understand the 'scale' of our world. There isn't an app for that.