Inside Engineering: Untold Stories and Fascinating People from the World of Civil Engineering. This is Episode 7, recorded in September 2019 natural resources and bats with Ryan Leiberher. Inside Engineering is brought to you by RK&K. Learn more at rkk.com. Alright everyone welcome back to another episode of Inside Engineering. We've got another great episode here for you this week.
Joining us in the studio is Ryan Leiberher. He works in our Harrisburg office normally but he has been kind enough to come down to our studio today and talk about what he does. Ryan is a Project Manager. But Ryan welcome to the show. We're glad to have you here. Yeah. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Sure. So as you're like I said you're a Project Manager. Yeah. That's just kind of an industry term. Yeah. Tell us a little bit of what you actually do. OK well I'll start with my background first so engineering podcast but I'm a biologist.
My formal education is it is from Penn State. I have a Wildlife degree and then I have an Environmental Biology degree from Edinburgh University. So like my day to day ever since I started my career has been on the biological side of things. So even though I'm listed as a Project Manager it's really I kind of added the caveat the tag after that as environment or I think natural resources or something I put in there because I think that is so non descriptive. And when we send emails to clients or whatever they're like you know, what....
'What does that mean?' 'What does that mean?' Right. So at least it kind of ties like adding that natural resources kind of component it kind of ties that title to something so that you're not just some project manager. Right. So yeah. So my background's biology though so. Or on our our previous episode we had John Rinehart. He's our Career and Leadership Program Badger. He's a big fan of yours. Ok. And and around around the office around the company. Ryan is perhaps for better or worse, but we're gonna go for better, known as "The Batman" because he does some work with bats but that's only a small part of what he does so.
But I think it's really interesting part so can you talk about the work that you do with bats and maybe why you're known as The Batman and then in a little bit we'll get into the majority of what you do, which is different stuff. Sure. I get that a lot. You know pretty much everywhere I've worked I've been dubbed The Batman. It's not it's not the worst title. No it's not. And it is. It is interesting and I can appreciate that that people you know have an interest in that. So. And I wish I had a great story as to you know like I was a kid and I found this bat and I became interested in it but I really don't have...
You fell down a well. Yeah. No I really don't have a great story just with my background and biology my first job out of college. I was working at a smaller engineering consulting firm and they had a need. They were dealing with a lot of threatened and endangered species issues on projects and they were so subcontracting out a lot of that a lot of that work to other you know smaller consultants to handle the threatened and endangered species kind of niche stuff and they decide they want to try to do that in-house. So they pretty much asked me I was like my I don't know first or second year out of college.
They said, 'Do you have any interest in threatened and endangered species, specifically bats?' And I said, Well, yeah I have a wildlife degree.' So I'm interested kind of in all that stuff. And they said, 'Well would you be interested in getting your certification to be on this qualified batt survey list for the Indiana bat?' The Indiana bat is the most known bat because it's a federally endangered species. So they have... U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a list of qualified surveyors that they keep and they asked me, 'You want to be on... you know could you pursue this?' And I said you know I'm just a young guy out of college and just trying to keep my job get a job have a career and I'm like, 'Sure yeah, if that's what you want me to do.
That's what I'll do.' And so that's kind of the road that I went down to get you know to do these bat surveys and you know it's actually it's pretty interesting. There's lots of different types of surveys that are done and it's pretty cool the different things I've done over the years with bats. It's a pretty wide variety of different kinds of surveys and things so. Why would why would our clients need a bat survey? Yeah. Other than just because they're interested.
That never never happens. Right. Right. They're doing it usually for a regulatory reason. They're trying to get authorization to build a highway, to develop oil and gas assets somewhere or whatever. And as part of those... as part of those projects permitting is usually involved. And in Pennsylvania we have state and federal authorizations that they need to obtain to do these projects and it's part of that; threatened and endangered species coordination is one of those things. So when your project is located in an area where you have a potential threatened and endangered species issue sometimes you're required to do these types of surveys. So that's kind of why it comes up — it's part of a permit requirement typically.
Where are some places, if you're doing a survey for something that's being built or improved, where are some places that you might typically find bats in a... I mean I think generally we think of bats living in caves... In your attic. In your attic. Right. Right. Right. Where where are you finding them out on job sites? Yes so a lot of times we'll find them — one of the most recent kind of hot topics is bats in bridges. Bats are using bridges as artificial roosts and they'll go in they'll use those roosts during the day they'll roost inside the bridge structure as opposed to in a tree or somewhere else in a rock cliff or something.
They seem to enjoy... certain species seem to enjoy roosting in bridge structures. So we've done recently we've done quite a few surveys for bats and bridges. The Department of Transportation whichever it is or whether it's in Pennsylvania or Florida or Maryland, whoever, needs to do maintenance on the structure needs to do something with the structure and there's a colony in there, there's bats in there. So they're you know they've got to kind of deal with that as part of the project. So that's one of the most recent things in the past we've done presence...
I've done a lot of presence/absence survey. So just for example you're building a big roadway corridor you're trying to get the environmental clearances there's gonna be a lot of timber removal, land clearing things like that. Fish Wildlife Service will say, 'hey you know you might have Indiana bats out here. You should probably do this survey,' whether it's acoustical survey or in a netting survey for presence/absence of these species. And we used to do a lot more of those types of surveys but little less now because there's a lot less large roadway corridors and things being built than there were back in the you know the early 2000s.
So if you were doing an acoustical or netting survey what does that look like or sounds like. Physically? There's a couple of things. So the acoustic survey's actually pretty pretty cool. It's technology that's more recent and it's passive technology. So what it does is you're setting out a detector unit that will record bat calls and bat calls or ultrasonic so if you go out you can't typically hear them but they're making these ultrasonic calls. The unit will record that information and then you can run it through, you can run it through special computer software and it'll give you an idea of what species are flying around out there.
Conversely the mist netting survey, it's more of a hands on literally you're putting nets up and you're putting them in corridors where bats would like to fly. Whether it's like an old logging road through the woods, a hiking trail, ATV path, things like that. Bats are kind of like deer in that they'll use paths through the woods to navigate. So you basically you're putting these nets up in the places where they spend their most of their time whether it's traveling and or foraging in a certain area whether like over ponds or water areas and you're physically trying to catch those bats and then pull them out of the net, Identify the species type and see what they are.
So it's an active survey versus a passive survey, which is acoustic information is you know it's collecting that data and then you're analyzing it. So two different types but those are both Fish Wildlife Service presence probable absence surveys that they that they allow you to use for threatened and endangered bat species. OK. So let's say you do a survey of a bridge and there's bats under there and the client also wants you to... not get rid of them, but how do we get how do we get them out of the way safely? What do you do to do that? So we've had quite a few projects that we've done this on and it's exclusion projects.
So you identify where the bats are and then depending where you are in the country there's different techniques in Pennsylvania for example they only use these structures really using the structures during the spring, summer, and fall. In the wintertime they're hibernating so they're not in the structures at that time. So a lot of the work that we'll do if we identify bats in a bridge and where bats hibernate is we'll do any kind of exclusionary work when bats aren't there. In the wintertime when they're hibernating they're not using the structure. We'll try to exclude them fill the cracks in the bridge before they do the maintenance on it with some mesh or some foam or whatever so they can't get in the structure.
Recently, and John's like.. I think he's really interested in the project we just did down in Florida, which was pretty cool because for me it was a little different because same type of procedure except the bats don't leave — they don't hibernate. It's Florida. It's never cold. So bats are in the structure year round. So we have a little bit different techniques there where we identified where the bats were in this bridge structure. We allowed... We had like one-way doors and escape tubes for them to get out of.
But they can't get back up into the bridge through these devices that we installed in the bridge so that was pretty cool. It was different. Fish and Wildlife Service was... I was concerned about, 'where these bats gonna go that they can't get in the bridge?' And the Fish and Wildlife wasn't too concerned about that particular species that was there. They just said there was plenty of habitat. They'll go somewhere in a different structure or somewhere else close by. There's plenty of things around but if it was a threatened and endangered species it probably would've been a little bit different story but... Yeah that was an interesting very interesting project and first for me to do bat work in Florida, which was pretty awesome.
How did that... I mean ultimately it might be somewhat obvious but how did that solution help the client? I mean it's gonna help them move forward in... that particular bridge structure needed a lot of maintenance and it was very a two lane bridge and it's in a very busy part of Florida on the Gulf Coast side. So there was very specific working timeframes and things and you couldn't close the bridge totally because of the public and there were some real specific things there. So basically the work that we did there would give the the DOT the latitude to do the work that they need to do to upgrade that structure and work on that structure you know.
And you know we excluded the bats so we're excluding the bats. You have two positive things there: you're excluding the bats so they're not getting killed or injured; and that project can move on and you know with you know in a timely manner. So that's that was one of you know that... The DOT was very happy for us to do that work and get the bats out of the bridge and eventually they'll get back in the bridge so hopefully they don't dilly dally with the with the maintenance. But yeah we excluded them for now. So pretty cool. Yeah, that's neat.
It's nice to see some innovative approaches to handling a wildcard like a bat. We used... The bridge was over... A lot of the bridge was over water so we had to use — and it was high — so a lot of the exclusions we did from land with a ladder and we we excluded the bats where we where we had to. But then there was other areas where over the water you can't use a ladder. So we actually had a bucket boat. It's like a big pontoon boat with a boom on it like a bucket truck. Yeah like a snooper from below.
Yeah. It came up and they they did a lot of the work from that from that bucket boat on the areas at over water, which also was a first for me. It was pretty cool. We got the bucket boat idea from one of our bridge inspectors in Harrisburg. He knew about it and there's a company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that they basically have a patent on these bucket boats. So it was really cool like the way that the circle at RK&K worked out so we decided you know we can do this work and then I talked to Justin in Harrisburg about the bucket boat and we came up with the whole game plan and it was actually pretty cool just kind of way the whole project worked out, you know me with the bat experience, Tom with the connections in Florida, Justin with the knowledge of the bucket boat.
We just... It was pretty neat with the whole flow of everything. So when you see stuff like that a lot here. There's no there's no silos of revenue so everybody's working together and you just you have this knowledge that's sitting all around it's connecting people is really important. Yeah yeah it was great. It's a neat project I think. I think that's the one that everybody's interested everybody. The one they got you the nickname. Right. Alright. So. So that's bats. Yeah. And super. Really cool stuff. But that is only a small part of what you do.
Yeah. Can you talk to us about some of the other cool things are you really anything you get to do. But we only focus on some of the cooler things? Yeah. So I mean kind of going back to the beginning of my career again. The bat stuff isn't enough to keep you busy all the time. So the core of my understanding in my experience in my career has been wetlands and waters, so wetlands, watercourses, permitting, identification and delineation of those types of features. Everybody usually has to do wetland delineations on projects, identify where those resources are and whatnot. And that was really kind of where my career started was in wetlands and watercourse identification and delineation.
The T&E stuff is you know a nice niche thing that we deal we do deal with and comes up on some projects. I mean it comes up on every project, but the more detailed stuff really comes up on some projects. So that's kind of the foundation of my background, is wetlands, waters, threatened and endangered species. So on a day to day basis I'm working on... all those things are components of the greater picture which is permitting. So, these projects need permits to proceed forward and those pieces are really the things I work on you know day to day is pulling those permits together. Whether it's a joint permit application, which are pretty complicated and complex for transportation projects or general permits — in Pennsylvania we have general permits, which is usually pretty simple a lot less complicated than a joint permit application.
But my background you know all those pieces kind of feed into the permitting puzzle. So on a day to day basis you know that's usually the types of things that I'm that I'm working on is permitting items you know for wetlands, waters, or threatened and endangered species. In the past I was, the company I was at before RK&K, I was a department manager and had a lot staff and things like that. So I use a lot of that experience kind of day to day to try to move things forward here too.
Why is permitting important? I think some people know what permitting is and probably more people have permitting for like an addition on their house or something. But can you talk about the permitting process? So it's it's important because it's it's important that it's done well and efficiently because it can really hold up a project timeline, like the schedule of the project. If you don't get the permitting items done in a timely manner and well and without a bunch of comments back from agencies, that can really kind of mess with your timeline.
You know at the end of the day somebody's trying to do a project and move it forward and if there's something like that that's holding it up. So the permitting isn't done well, that can be a huge problem. You know you're trying to get a bridge repaired or built or whatnot and the permit's holding it up. That's a huge problem. Just as much as any other part of the project. So yeah that's the real importance of it is the timeline with projects. Do you have any... I guess what's a good story that you have from the field that it relates to — I'm sure you have a lot.
I have a lot of field stories. What's something that sort of sticks out to you as a really you know either earlier on in your career or even from the permitting side of things that sort of exemplifies why you love what you do? Why I love what I do. I think it really comes back to why I love what I do. I mean, my degrees are in Wildlife and Environmental Biology. So at the end of the day I enjoy that.
I do the permitting you know as part of my career but really the thing that kind of hooked me up when I was just starting this was just being outdoors. Outside delineating wetlands, stomping around in creeks, dealing with animal species, things like that. That's the stuff that day to day that you know has kind of really you know it's been like the trajectory of my career. That's the thing that started it all is you know. Having a degree like that and the the outdoor aspect of it you know not being in the office every day stuck, which as I'm getting older I'm finding that that's more more more common.
But yeah at the end of the day I know that's what got me into this. And I still do really enjoy all that. So yeah. Can you explain to me, who doesn't have the same kind of you. What is wetland delineation and why is it important? Okay so. It's important because again it comes back to the permeating aspect of of any project. The Army Corps of Engineers, and depending on the state you're in, that state will regulate those features.
They're regulated as part of the Clean Water Act. Part of state laws specific state laws and as part of that impacting those resources you need those permits to do that. So delineation of a wetland, it is exactly what it sounds like. Where's that wetland at? Well how big is it and what does it consist of? What vegetation is there? What what types of soils are there? What kind of hydrology is there? And that basically determines your wetland boundary and the determination of where that wetland is can have real, again, real impacts on a project.
So how big that how big is that weltland? Do we need to mitigate for it? Do we need to make up for it somewhere else? You know this is a loss of a resource. Whatever is it a temporary impact to that resource. Those all those things kind of come into play when you're dealing with water resources because they are regulated state and federally. So it kind of comes back the permitting aspect of everything. That's why it's important where they are. Yeah. And having a team that can navigate that permitting process seems like it would be a big benefit to the client being able to get through that and not have delays.
Yes it's very... Yeah. Having folks that that knowledge is really important for any project. Yeah sure. How do you measure the success of what you do? We ask this question a lot because we think it's really valuable to understand how different people measure success. How do you measure success in what you do? In the consulting world how I measure success is opportunities. And it's kind of guess price sounds weird but.
I feel like opportunities in the consulting world is how you measure success. If you have an opportunity to expand services, provide different things different services to clients, keep people busy — there's another opportunity. So I have a couple folks that work with me in Harrisburg on one specific project and they pretty much work on that project full time. So I feel like opportunities is how I gauge success.
If you have opportunities to keep people busy, to bring work in then you're doing your job. Like if those opportunities dry up or those opportunities aren't there then to me then that's not as successful at that point because the whole idea is you know stay busy. So if you don't have those opportunities to stay busy whether you know whether it's through the next project or some other task associated with an existing project or whatnot to me that's how how I measure it and so in the consulting world it's just the opportunities to have continual opportunity to be busy.
That's good. That's a that's a good or a good approach to it that we haven't heard before. That's That's nice yes. Staying busy is a challenge. And you know for example those two people you mentioned I mean at some point that project's going to end and you have to have another option. What's the next thing? What's it's down the road you know and that's constantly the thing you're trying to work toward. So. Nice. Yeah. So, what's what's something that. That you failed at in the past but it was a good lesson learned for you? Failed at in the past.
I think overall you'll fail if you try to take shortcuts on things.
The quickest way isn't always technically the best. Last question here. What's something that you are curious about right now? Something I'm curious about? Something you want to know more about. At work? Or in general or? Yes. Something I'm curious about. I'm curious about and we've talked about this and this is it I'll keep it I'll keep it with the work topic but, with this... Back to bats and you know I've been curious and since I got here I've been curious about bat work and how it kind of — and not just bat work, T&E work in general.
Threatened and endangered species work, when I say T&E work that's what I'm talking about, threatened and endangered species work. How that could be... How we could do more of that at RK&K and I've talked to other... Talked to folks North Carolina. You know we've kind of have brainstorming sessions and stuff but that I think is one of the things that interests me the most around here. I think the opportunity to do more of that stuff in different locations of you know the company, different geographic areas where we can kind of cross sell things and expand those types of services. I know it's an engineering company but I'm a biologist so.
So those are the things I know about and and I think there's opportunities there so that that kind of has me curious and has since I started Sure. Well and just because we're an here. engineering firm... Yeah. I mean there's lots of services that our clients need and that the more expertise we have the better we can we can serve them. Yeah absolutely. That's cool. Well it's a we've arrived at the time in the show where it's time for you to give us your pick of the week. Oh boy. Ryan's gonna pick something out here that he thinks we're interested in.
I don't know what it is. I know generally that category but I'm excited to hear what it might be. Yes. You gave me that question I thought about it for a while. I was thinking I'm an outdoors guy and there's gonna be a lot of that talk through this whole podcast and whatever and do I want to go down that road? So I'll give you a quick story. IWe go on vacation every year to Thousand Islands New York on the Canadian border it's the St. Lawrence River. And we were up there and we're driving around this town and in Kingston, Ontario and there's like sign on side this building says says The Tragically Hip.
And I'm like that sounds familiar. My wife's like yeah that's a band you know like I can't ever remember any songs that these guys song so they start playing them on the radio up there they're playing them on the radio a lot up there. And I just really like this band. And so that's my pick of the week is The Tragically Hip. The Tragically Hip. Yeah. Check them out they're really good if you're you know I don't know from my era you know I was born late 70s grew up through the 80s and the 90s and through the grunge era and stuff and they're kind of like alternative, but The Tragically Hip. Yeah.
Awesome. We'll put a link to their their website in the in the show notes. That's a good pick. We haven't had any music yet. Yeah not a book. We've had some outdoor stuff. Yeah. Yeah. I'm excited that we're we're getting a little bit... We're getting like a collection of things that you guys you know do all together. You go read a book while was in this music while walking on a trail. This is good. Alright Ryan. Hey thanks a lot for coming in today. Yeah. No problem. This was this is really good. We enjoyed having you here. You know keep doing some cool stuff.
Maybe you come back sometime. Yeah. I'd love to. It was pretty fun. First time for me. The first time on anything like this. That's good. We really appreciate it. Thanks a lot. A new episode of Inside Engineering comes out every Tuesday. You can listen or watch from your favorite podcasting platform. We're trying to be in as many places as possible but don't forget to rate or review the show. We want your feedback also so if you head to our website at rkk.com/podcast. We've got a real short survey that we wouldn't mind you filling out just to give us some feedback. We want to make the show as valuable as possible to you. And you can obviously also stream every episode on demand there.
Thanks again Ryan. Yeah. We'll see you all next week on another episode of Inside Engineering.
Ryan measures success is opportunities. “I feel like opportunities in the consulting world is how you measure success. If you have an opportunity to expand services, provide different things — different services to clients, keep people busy — there’s another opportunity.”
Ryan’s curious about how he can help expand the firm’s T&E work (threatened and endangered species). As a biologist, this is near and dear to him.
Pick of the Week
Ryan’s pick is the alternative rock band The Tragically Hip. He says they’re pretty popular in Canada. Canada has hockey, maple syrup, and bacon, so we’ll tentatively trust their musical tastes too.