Bryan Meyer has been a licensed land surveyor in the state of Wisconsin for 39 years. However, he was introduced to the land surveying profession as a teenager.
“I’ve actually been involved in surveying for 45 years, ” Meyer says. “I started out as a 16 year old working the summer months for my uncle’s land surveying firm.”
Today, he works as the county surveyor for Lacrosse County, Wisconsin and acts as a the president elect of the Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors (WSLS), which was founded in 1952 and is a statewide organization that draws attention to the land surveying profession in Wisconsin.
Recruiting the next generation of land surveyors is integral. To do so, the WSLS reaches high school students through Trig-Star, which is sponsored by the National Society of Professional Surveyors and is a competition that recognizes students who excel in trigonometry, along with their teachers. The WSLS reaches high school students in math class to talk to about the importance of trigonometry in land surveying.
Wisconsin is an ideal state for land surveyors, if you ask Meyer.
“I think it’s great because we have an absolutely beautiful state,” he says. “We have everything from swamps to hills to flat-level sandy country. In the north we’ve got lots of forests to deal with and in the south, we just have these gently rolling hills. It’s a fantastic place to live and do survey work in the field.”
The state also has an interesting land surveying history.
“As surveyors, one of our biggest goals is to help people know and understand where their property lines are. Well, would you believe that the state of Wisconsin does not know where it’s western boundary is?” Meyer asks. “Most people will tell you that it’s the Mississippi and St. Croix River, which separates us and Minnesota. The distinction here is that the western state line was established on May 9, 1848 when Wisconsin because a state. On May 11, 1858, Minnesota became a state and they agreed to the state line.”
However, over the years, natural influences made changes in the river, and the lock and dam system has manipulated the boundary many times. Today, the state has an initiative to re-establish where that line is. It has never been surveyed, he says, so Meyer wants to find out where the main channel is today, take a snapshot, digitize it and agree to that line with Minnesota.
It’s just one of the initiatives happening in the state. So, what else can land surveying professionals expect in Wisconsin? We asked Ed Harvey, WSLS president and operator of Ed Harvey’s Land Office in Waldo, Wisconsin, to weigh in. Here’s what he had to say.
What would you say is the majority type of work available to land surveyors in Wisconsin? City or Rural?
I’m sure that construction-related work, including design surveys and construction staking, constitutes a majority of our work. Transportation-related projects probably lead the pack. Assuming that’s true, it would follow that there is more rural work than urban.
What would you say is the most popular (or favorite to conduct) type of work among WSLS members? City or Rural?
I think that each surveyor favors whatever his or her career has led him or her to become most skilled at. For me, it would be retracements. Strictly due to the surroundings, I would also favor a rural setting.
About how large is the WSLS membership? Compared to previous years, is membership growing, holding steady or declining?
Registration here is on a two-year cycle. On the second year of the cycle, when surveyors are rushing for PDHs, we have an uptick. There is a time each year, during the renewal grace period, when our membership is also a little higher. We see our membership flutter between 950 and 1,100. Since the onset of the continuing education requirement, we have seen our membership increase.
Do you measure the ethnic diversity of your membership? Why or why not? If you had to guess, what is the current makeup?
No, we don’t. Far and away, the largest share of our membership is Caucasian. Many of us work for minority owned companies. However, we do not see a lot of licensed surveyors representing minority races. Over the past couple of decades, our diversity has been enhanced by increasing numbers of women, including two recent Society presidents. Our most threatening lack of diversity, at this time, is age. The economic slump of the early 2000s together with technology advances which simultaneously reduced crew sizes, has led to a very geriatric work force. The schools have done a good job of recruiting. The next generation of surveyors are real people who are now working their way towards registration. I see a better representation of racial minorities in their ranks.
How do you feel WSLS has developed the most over the years? Have there been any new initiatives or projects that reflect the association’s growth?
Mandatory continuing education is fairly new here. As a result, attendance at our Annual Institute has grown to about 1,100.
What do you think is affecting the growth of the land surveying profession in Wisconsin the most? Lack of awareness? Training? Lack of Education? Technology? Licensure?
The factors which are listed are all things which we can manipulate to minimize negative impacts. We have done that to a large extent, and we continue to work on it. We are not able to influence economic fluctuations. The best we seem able to do is to devise ways, as a profession, to survive periods of economic slump. Fortunately, Wisconsin has a remarkably diverse economy. We are a huge agricultural state. In the southeast we have some of the biggest manufacturing districts in the country. Forestry and tourism are king in the north.
What would you say is the marquee survey project(s) in Wisconsin, the most famous project happening or that has happened in Wisconsin?
Thirty years ago, a surcharge was created on the real estate transfer fee in Wisconsin. The money is earmarked for land information modernization. Many of our members have provided surveying and mapping services toward that effort. We have provided, and continue to provide section corner remonumentation, photogrammetry and LiDAR, and mapping control. We have also reaped the benefits of the mapping products that have been developed by the project.
Do survey professionals need their license to be involved with the WSLS?
No. We have nine types of memberships. Only regular members (over 600 of our members are regular members) are required to be licensed.
What rules or laws are on the books or up for approval that you would say threaten the survey profession in Wisconsin? Or will have a great impact?
We have a very active Government Affairs Committee. They have worked hard for a long time to keep our laws related to surveying current. Because of Covid, and last year’s elections, there is not a backup of bills at the state capitol right now. In April, a revision of Administrative Rule AE-7 (minimum standards for property surveys) is expected to be approved. WSLS has had a great influence on the proposal. Its approval is going to have a positive effect on our work.
Career-wise, what kind of life can you expect as a surveyor in Wisconsin? Is there a ton of work available? Consistent work?
I have not talked to any surveyors in the last few years who have not reported having a serious backlog. I think it can be said that there is “a ton of work.” We have a fluctuating economy. But, because of our diversity of industry, it is more consistent than in many other places. Since we are a construction related industry, we are slaves to the economy. Typically, because of the way construction work is sequenced, we are the first to experience hardship when the economy dips. However, we are also the first to get busy again.
What is the best way for someone to get involved in the WSLS?
Go to our website and join. Consider attending our annual Institute.
Why is Wisconsin a good place for a land surveying career?
The diversity of industry in Wisconsin, creates a wide market of needed surveying services and relatively consistent economy. There is currently a demand for new young surveyors. We have a healthy environment and great public facilities and resources.