Council Meets in Grand Rapids: Five Local Presentations
By Nancy Rader, Land Management Information Center
The Governor’s Council on Geographic Information met in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on May 24, 2006, continuing its effort to connect with GIS constituencies around the state. Bill Befort, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, arranged the meeting and the Blandin Foundation generously provided the meeting space. Forty-four people attended, most from the local area. Posters about local projects were provided by DNR’s Resource Assessment Unit and by the Itasca Community College GIS program, and five presentations covered a wide range of topics:
New and Old in Aerial Photography
Lee Westfield, Pro-West & Associates, Walker MN
Lee Westfield noted that Minnesota has had very good air photo coverage because the state has cooperated with national imagery programs. Pro-West & Associates fills a niche for imagery that is not covered by other programs; their clients require a specific film, scale, season or geographic coverage. He described a number of project examples, including counting birds for shorebird management; recording highest water level after snowmelt; flying color infrared (CIR) photos in autumn for DNR; managing wild rice areas; managing pine plantations; monitoring an oil spill; documenting density of shoreland development; and updating orthophotos in urban areas. He noted the importance of historical photography, and also the impact of Google Earth in creating interest in air photos by the general public.
GIS on the Web for County Government
David Bily and Jeff Braaten, Itasca County
Dave Bily outlined the development of GIS in Itasca County from AutoCAD in 1991 to today’s ArcGIS and web applications. Jeff Braaten then described the county’s parcel information website (at http://www.co.itasca.mn.us). The county has 68,614 parcels and the number keeps increasing; currently, parcel mapping is 96% complete. Having this information online has greatly reduced office traffic and staff time to answer questions; the site is used by the general public, realtors, appraisers, banks, municipalities and county departments. Users can choose between DRGs, FSA NAIP photos, or wetland images as backgrounds. They can search by parcel code but not by name; the intranet version lets county personnel search by name. Usability tests showed that user-friendliness was more important than added functionality.
Bily then described two mailing label requests that illustrate the usefulness of GIS:
1. Notification of school district residents that a school was closing. A combination of attribute queries were needed to exclude public ownership parcels, to include land owned in trust, and to use PLS sections to include areas that were not yet mapped to the parcel level.
2. Identification of residents living in the sandy outwash plain area for a drinking water nitrate study. The query included residential owners with wells who were within the outwash area, excluded public ownership, accounted for multi-owner interest in the same parcel, and removed duplicates.
The county is currently migrating to ArcGIS SDE, is planning to create its own plat book next year, and is revising its distribution policy for parcel data, trying to balance free service to county offices with cost recovery for other users.
Geographic Technology in Forest Industry
Cheryl Adams, UPM Blandin Paper
Cheryl Adams described the use of GIS with GPS for a variety of applications in the forest industry. The systems are used in the field to design timber sales (establishing sale boundaries and editing layers such as the location of skidtrails, landings and new roads); to view timber sales before an auction; to navigate to an area; to improve the accuracy of boundaries previously located by other means; and to tell staff where to replant trees. Staff are finding wireless technology more reliable than cable connections to their GPS.
For data, they make extensive use of FSA NAIP imagery, color infrared imagery, and custom photography and covertype interpretation done by Pro-West & Associates. Although UPM Blandin has photos for their own lands, they often need photos for other areas. For the future, Adams emphasized the importance of current photography, accurate base layers, more standardized access to property boundary information, GIS standards, and wireless technology.
GIS in Wildlife Habitat Monitoring and Management
Steve Benson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division, Grand Rapids
(slides at: http://www.gis.state.mn.us/Minutes/handouts/06_May/DNR_Wildlife_GIS.pdf)
The 45 field offices of DNR-Wildlife use GIS for a myriad of projects. Benson described numerous examples including: historical comparisons of the ranges of different species; mapping wildlife management areas (WMAs) and monitoring encroachment on them; using the web to get information about WMAs to the public; defining wildlife habitat relationship models for use in GAP analysis; tracking game harvest totals; conducting aerial surveys of species with real-time entry of GIS data; tracking animal diseases, including planning for avian flu; managing forest resources; and assisting with DNR’s OHV (off-highway vehicle) review project.
Benson emphasized the need for up-to-date vegetation data. He also said that data distribution via the DNR Data Deli (http://deli.dnr.state.mn.us) and applications such as WMA Finder (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/wmas/index.html) are invaluable since staff do not have time to send out information on an individual basis.
The FireWise Curriculum in Minnesota Schools
Bill Glesener, Minnesota DNR, Bemidji
(slides and notes at: http://www.gis.state.mn.us/Minutes/handouts/06_May/Firewise_Curriculum.pdf)
Glesener described Firewise (www.dnr.state.mn.us/firewise), a program to help communities reduce wildfire risk to homes by conducting firewise community assessments. DNR and the Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education have developed a curriculum to train students to use GIS to identify structures on air photos, assess the fire risk, and create a density surface model of the data. The students then report their findings to local fire departments, officials and homeowners.
Future directions are to incorporate open source capabilities and to try to integrate the data with Google Earth. Limiting factors for the project are lack of updated imagery (especially in high growth area of developments); programming for server-side processing of data; and proprietary classification of E911 data.
The wrap-up discussion after the five presentations noted the main needs of access to current data and applications, especially in the areas of imagery and vegetation, as well as appropriate access to E911 information.