Posts Tagged ‘GIScience’

In order to successfully conserve land, you must first understand what you are trying to conserve and why. Land Trusts typically spell out, in their mission statements, what their goals are. It is often better to be narrow, in this regard, than to try and “drink from a firehose.” There are, after all, many lands out there that need to be conserved, and not enough resources to conserve them. On the organizational level, this fact is most magnified.


In order to be successful, conservation organizations must be thoughtful about each step of the process. For instance, what grants should be applied for, will they build capacities for the organization’s mission or stretch the organization thin with new requirements. It is rare that a grant will cover an entire program. Often there is thee requirement that the organization receiving the money match it with a certain amount of their own fund-raising capacity. Grants come with requirements, so organizations do better to find grants with requirements they can easily meet, without building new capacities.


This is why it is important to define, as specifically as possible, what a conservation organization wishes to conserve. Many Land Trusts conserve land as wildlands, and others conserve agricultural land. It is more difficult to try and do both well. Many organizations that conserve wildlands, conserve forests, riparian zones, different types of wetlands, etc. Even in this regard, a degree of specificity is important. When trying to decide whether a particular tract is work putting resources into conserving, it helps to use Overlays. If any organization decides to preserve forested land, it can favor forested lands that are near other protected lands, in order to expand the conserved landscape. It may choose the favor those near riparian zones or wetlands. It may choose the favor those with endangered species habitat or certain soil types. All of these aspects can be represented spatially, and GIS can be used to better construct an effective overlay.


It is important to identify a geographic region of importance. In this case, I have identified South Whitehall Township as an important area, because of its low percentage of total lands being conserved. (An organization can choose to value areas with a high level of conserved land instead). Since I have chosen South Whitehall, all the other layers will be clipped to focus on just South Whitehall.


Overlay Map2

Percent of Land Conserved


Lets say an organizations wish to favor forested properties, near protected lands, riparian zones and wetlands, with a presence of endangered species. One can make a model, taking land use layers, protected lands layers, riparian and wetlands layers and endangered species habitat layers. Each of these can be used to create a buffer (how close to the object should the protected land be). Again, this is derived by deciding how much certain layers should be valued. After making buffers, these can be merged into a single layer and joined to a tax parcel map. The join will maintain the geometry of the conservation layers, and tell you which properties are intersected by the conservation buffers, and thus a high priority for conservation. The output, in the example of South Whitehall Township, near Allentown, Pennsylvania, would look like this:

Overlay Map

The Green shows properties of potentially high conservation value.



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Land Cover Map of Olympic National Park

Land Cover Map of Olympic National Park

Summary of Land Usage: Olympic National Park.
Authored by: Glenn Nelson
Created & Updated: Thursday, November 5, 2015

Olympic National Park was first preserved in 1897 as a forest preserve by President Grover Cleveland. In 1938 the level of protection was expanded to that of National Park, by President Franklin Roosevelt. The United Nations recognized the park’s global value, by distinguishing it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Today Olympic National Park protects 922,651 acres, 81% of which is classified as Temperate Rainforest. Temperate Rainforest ecosystems receive, on average, 150 inches of rain per year and are the most productive forest type. Olympic NP is home to over 1,633 species with 9 endangered and 11 threatened species amongst them. The park managers take an ecosystems view of species protection, which views healthy ecosystems as the best way to protect threatened species. Beyond just being home to a plethora of wild species, Olympic NP also offers a host of ecosystem services, such as; primary production (Temperate Rainforests accumulate and store more organic material than any other forest type), soil formation, nutrient dispersal, climate regulation, water retention, recreation, scientific discovery and spiritual renewal.


(Measured in raster pixels. 1 pixel = 15.6 acres).

(Measured in raster pixels. 1 pixel = 15.6 acres).

(Measured in pixels. 1 pixel = 15.6 acres).

Olympic National Park preserves 746,238 acres of Temperate Rainforest, as well as 71,302 acres of temperate shrub lands, 61,015 acres of glacial ice (that contain fresh water reserves), and 18,003 acres of fresh water. The preservation of these land cover types help to protect and manage natural resources such as timber and fresh water, but also creates habitat for rare and endangered species like the Northern Spotted Owl, and the Western Snowy Plover. The park has also been evaluated for its potential for reintroduction of the extirpated Grey Wolf.

Spotted Owl Range

(Spotted Owl Range Map: Shows range in relation to Olympic NP)

Gray Wolf Historical Range

Gray Wolf Present Range
These maps show the former and present ranges of the Gray Wolf on the Olympic Peninsula. With the vast majority of the park falling within areas formerly known to support Gray Wolf populations, we can extrapolate that the preserved ecosystems within the park could again provide habitat for the gray wolf.

Furthermore, 436,694 acres of high priority conservation land have been identified within a 20 mile radius of the park’s boundary, including 347,887 acres, both within and near the park, identified by Washington State’s Natural Heritage Program, as having occurrences of rare and endangered species. These lands have been identified as high priority because of their propensity to support rare and endangered species. By preserving the park lands, as well as these high priority lands, we can conserve a contiguous corridor of habitat, which would allow for the plasticity in range movement and migration amongst species.

Olympic National Park has been studied as an ideal location for the reintroduction of the Gray Wolf, and recent research notes that the absence of the Gray Wolf has been damaging to the park. It has been long known that the removal of keystone species leads to an over-population amongst grazing animals in lower trophic levels. Such has been the case with the park’s Elk population. The over-population of Elk has predictably led to over-grazing in the park.

Finally, Olympic National Park also provides excellent recreation opportunities for the 609,000 residents in nearby Seattle.

Professional Recommendations:
Any decision besides that of full funding for Olympic NP would have the potential to negatively impact not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its extraordinary value to the global ecosystem, but one that provides vital habitat to rare and endangered species, as well as regional ecosystem services to the Pacific Northwest. Damaging even a small part of the ecosystem, in such a highly productive forest type, would certainly have ramifications across trophic levels. The park boundary represents the most contingent habitat on the Olympic Peninsula for rare keystone predators, whose removal from the ecosystem would likely have repercussions amongst lower trophic levels. Full funding would help to evaluate the habitat needs for existing species, as well as for the reintroduction of the endangered Gray Wolf. Given what is at stake, the only option is full funding.

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