Using GIS to Navigate Land Management Activities “The map appears to us more real than the land.” -D.H. Lawrence Posted on April 28, 2015 by UPLLC

Today’s world is location-aware. It’s a place where every modern device can tell us where we are and where we’re going. We can easily map our run, our drive, and even where we’re eating dinner tonight. We see maps of disease patterns, election results, climate change projections and discoveries in the far reaches of our galaxy. And although the core purpose of maps – to record, share and discuss spatial information – has not changed, the way we do just that has evolved to become something more useful than ever imagined.

Similar to other fields, land management practices have become more focused, efficient and articulated through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS has flourished over the past several years, making spatial data easy to understand and map. As the name suggests, GIS is a computer system that allows users to create, model, query and analyze large amounts of spatial data across one or more databases. A well-designed system will have the capacity to create maps, model scenarios and ultimately aid in complex planning and management issues.

The concept that makes GIS different than any other information system is that it works with data that is referenced with coordinate systems. Because the GIS knows the coordinates for every piece of data, multiple layers of data can be lined up on top of each other and manipulated. For example, placing a dataset of offshore wind speed data on top of a layer of coastline data can serve as the basic foundation of a renewable wind energy analysis. GIS can be utilized at any scale, making it a useful tool whether the area of interest is a ten-acre parcel or a ten thousand acre ranch.

Since modern GIS technology is relatively new, it is obvious that land management has long existed without the use of GIS. However, with the quick availability of accurate data and analysis software, land management can be enhanced with the use of GIS. An exhaustive list is beyond the scope of this article, but a few examples of GIS use in land management include comprehensive conservation planning, land acquisition prospecting, threat mitigation, habitat connectivity, human footprint analysis, and watershed modeling. We will detail two examples that show how land managers can use GIS.

The first example in which a land manager can use GIS is through a strategic property inventory. As land managers know, every piece of land comes with a unique history and a unique set of objectives that have to be considered during management planning. However, whether it’s one property or one thousand, strategically taking inventory of the land and mapping it in GIS is a great place to start the management process. Not only does this process give land managers a starting point at which they can evaluate their management practices, it also allows for the creation of a polished, consistent mapping product that can be shared with all stakeholders.

The second example of using GIS in land management is a suitability analysis. After a strategic property inventory is conducted, land managers may face the challenge of prioritizing areas for conservation or other uses. While sometimes simply looking at the land will provide empirical clues as to what should receive top priority, a suitability analysis in GIS can provide an in depth analysis to objectively identify areas of prioritization. Similar to a strategic property inventory, a suitability analysis in GIS can be customized to meet the needs of the land and stakeholders. Some examples of a when a suitability analysis could be used include prioritizing areas for habitat restoration, renewable energy development, hazard potential or agricultural siting.

When done thoughtfully, a suitability analysis, like any GIS analysis, can save significant time and money. Instead of exclusively conducting expensive and time-consuming fieldwork, using GIS mapping and analysis techniques can provide accurate results that allow land managers to efficiently focus their management efforts. Ultimately, whether a land manager simply wants to map the boundary of a property, perform an in depth wetlands project or anything in between, GIS provides effective solutions for data management and stakeholder communications.

Tags:  Conservation  Cartography  Mapping  
Back to News >