From Hand Shovels to Backhoes, this Lady “Digs” Being a Soil Scientist

Photo of Lisa reviewing her findings at the water's edge after collecting soil samplesAt 25 years old Lisa Palazzi discovered soil science. “I found it fascinating!” she said with the smile that’s frequently on her face. “So I changed my degree and went back to school.”

Up to that point Lisa had been working periodically, but unenthusiastically, on a communications degree at various colleges in California and Montana, and even had been offered a job in France. “But the thought of having to get dressed up and go into an office everyday did not sound very appealing,” recalls Lisa.

A Montana native, Lisa made the most of her time outside the classroom hiking, biking, skiing and white water rafting with friends. “Bozeman, MT is an amazing place for outdoor experiences,” she reminisced.

A career that would take her out of doors was a good fit for Lisa. She graduated with highest honors from Montana State University (MSU) with a Bachelor’s degree in Soil Science, emphasizing geology and soil physics (how water and heat moves in soils). Lisa continued her university education and earned a Soil Science Master’s degree from Oregon State University, emphasizing soil physics and forestry.

Photo of Lisa and her dog Bear in a wetland“Being outdoors is one of the best parts of my job,” Lisa said, adding that desk research is important too.

“I like figuring out natural ecosystem functions. I’m able to imagine what’s going on under the ground three-dimensionally. I picture sub-surface terrain and landscape and it makes sense to me,” she explains.

Field visits are key to Lisa’s work. Though she carries a handheld GPS, service is not always available. “I had to compass my way out of a 140 acre prairie once,” she remembers. “There were no fences, houses or landmarks.”

In the field, Lisa collects soil samples (with everything from hand shovels to backhoes), inventories the landscape, takes pictures and verifies (or refutes) what she’s learned through the desk research. “I frequently work in remote areas, often miles from any roads.”

For that reason her Australian cattle dog, Bear, frequently accompanies her. “He’s a great companion and adds protection for me as I come across cougars, bears and humans.”

In addition to Bear, Lisa’s family includes a cat, her high school sophomore twins (a boy and a girl) and her husband Dave, who is a marine resource manager.

Photo of Lisa PalazziLisa recently joined SCJ Alliance as a Certified Professional Soil Scientist (CPSS) and Certified Professional Wetland Scientist (PWS). She is also an accredited LEED Green Associate. Prior to SCJ, Lisa owned her own business, Pacific Rim Soil and Water, Inc., providing expert wetlands, soils and hydrology assessment services for over 20 years.

Her portfolio of work includes wetland mitigation and monitoring, groundwater assessment and monitoring, soil profiles, surface and near-surface hydrology studies and septic system design assistance. She recognizes the benefits of low impact development in relation to effective and successful stormwater management and has successfully worked these strategies into many private and public sector projects.

Lisa is a member of many state and national industry organizations. She regularly assists in writing local and state-wide legislation and model ordinances related to stormwater and hydrology issues, a task where her MSU minor in English Composition comes in handy.

Photo of Lisa conducting a training at Mission CreekLisa is an excellent communicator not only on paper, but also in person. Because of her expertise, she serves regularly in courtrooms and at public hearings as an expert witness.

She is also a sought after teacher, providing training on topics like soil science, wetland science, hydric soils, soil hydrology and landscape awareness for professional wetland scientists, public sector regulators, wastewater system designers and installers, engineers, attorneys and others.

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