Conservation Mapping for the Masses

A lot has changed in the 18 years that I’ve been mapping conservation areas. Landscapes have changed, conservation methods have evolved, and technologies to support conservation have emerged and been widely adopted. As a cartographer for a regional planning commission in 1989, I used pen and ink on mylar to map transportation corridors and the habitats they dissected. Then, with the state DEP, I logged into a mainframe computer and keyed cryptic commands to make simple wetlands maps to support regulations. As a GIS analyst for The Nature Conservancy in the early 90’s, I started making maps on a personal computer. Back then, there wasn’t much digital data available, so we had to create it ourselves from airphotos and field surveys. “Fortunately,” project areas were small, since the focus was on parcels and habitat patches.

Over time, agencies and companies built seamless GIS data sets covering entire states and the whole country. These wall-to-wall datalayers allowed professional mappers like me to conduct analyses and create decent maps of large areas. This broad coverage was key as ecologists began prescribing the conservation of large connected landscapes and planning for entire ecoregions. In the late 90’s these data sets began to be put online, first as downloadable files, then as live map services that users could interact with in their browsers by zooming and panning, turning layers on and off, and clicking on map features to access descriptive information about the features. However, these sites were slow and kludgy and only usable by geeks like me.

So, here we are in 2007. High-speed Internet is ubiquitous. Google and Microsoft mapping sites are everyday tools, allowing anyone to quickly and easily make maps and find and explore places. Detailed aerial imagery is freely available nationwide, and agencies and NGOs are publishing their maps and data as standard web services to be combined into useful “mash-ups” that integrate data from different servers. LandScope America will leverage these technologies and data to put maps and information at the fingertips of anyone doing conservation work, or just interested in conservation and nature. We at National Geographic Maps are thrilled to be a part of this exciting effort. We look forward to leveraging National Geographic’s content, talent, and tradition to make this the premier site for inspiring and informing conservation across the country.

-- Frank Biasi, Director of Conservation Projects, National Geographic Maps

- Frank Biasi

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