Day: May 12, 2016

GIS: A Vital Tool for Forest Management

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Forests in the United States are under threat. Fire is changing the nation’s forest landscape, while forest health is succumbing to warmer weather patterns. Faced with challenges of such magnitude, James E. Hubbard, the deputy chief for state and private forestry for the US Forest Service (USFS), believes that GIS is the key to forest management.James E. Hubbard, the deputy chief for state and private forestry for the US Forest Service, believes that GIS is the key to forest management.

Hubbard is responsible for fire and aviation management, cooperative forestry programs, forest health protection, conservation education, urban and community forestry, and the Office of Tribal Relations. He formulates his thinking on the premise that everything in the forest is geographically based. Thus, decision-making processes—from planning fire management to policy making—must incorporate scientific geographic analysis.

“GIS is mission critical for fire management and response,” Hubbard said.

The Forest Service also partners with the US Department of the Interior in the LANDFIRE program, a decision support system for wildfire management. Using GIS to manage annually updated survey data, the program produces maps about vegetation and fire fuel characteristics across the country. It includes weather factors and predicts potential wildfire activity 10 days out.

With LANDFIRE, firefighters and land managers know what to expect, which actions to take, and their probability of success. They know how to best position fire suppression resources and set priorities for hazard reduction activities, such as removing fuel and conducting controlled burns. All that leads to better approaches to fighting fires, managing risk, and ensuring successful outcomes.

(This Esri Story Map app lets users click on various locations to see insects that affect forests in those areas and learn about diseases that are contributing to forest decline. (Photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources—Forestry.)

Using maps like this one, which illustrates fire potential and forest risks from insects and disease, the USFS helps private forestland owners manage their properties and works with communities to build public policy. With GIS contextualizing forestland dynamics for land managers, firefighters, policy makers, and the public, everyone is more capable of protecting and preserving America’s forests as well as preparing for any more changes to come.

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GIS Helps Monitor, Balance Out Visitor Movements at Peruvian Archaeological Site

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Archaeological sites are popular tourist destinations. But large numbers of visitors often present unique management and conservation challenges. High volumes of tourists can create congestion, which can harm the visitor experience. Archaeological sites are also vulnerable to erosion and damage caused by large numbers of people.

Machu Picchu in Peru attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

(Machu Picchu in Peru attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.)

In 2015, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture wanted to conduct a study to see how many visitors could safely visit Machu Picchu at one time without damaging the sanctuary or diminishing the tourist experience. Cultural Site Research and Management (CSRM), the organization tasked with carrying out the study, used a combination of infrared sensors, visitor observation, 3D modeling, network analysis, and mobile and web-based GIS to assess and improve movement around one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world.

Researchers used ArcGIS Network Analyst to record tourists’ typical visit times along paths and in significant locations at Machu Picchu, making it possible to explore alternative routes.

The research team produced a raster heat map that shows congestion around Machu Picchu at different times based on actual numbers of visitors.
(The research team produced a raster heat map that shows congestion around Machu Picchu at different times based on actual numbers of visitors.)

While these approaches were valuable, they did not directly reveal information about congestion, which is a much more experiential phenomenon. Thus, the team employed a third technique: using Collector for ArcGIS to record real-time congestion data.

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