INTERNET-BASED GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEM (GIS)
 
Status, Potential and Barriers to Deployment
Within the USDA Forest Service
           
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  B. The Current Status
 
     
  B.1 Current Uses and Applications of WebGIS in the Forest Service  
 

In general, WebGIS technology is known within the Forest Service and most respondents have seen it in operation or have used it. The main users of agency WebGIS include GSTC staff and those that have had applications developed for them by the GSTC or the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI).

The majority of those surveyed (62 percent) stated that their Region does not use WebGIS. Except for GSTC staff, WebGIS use is limited. Some used it only within the Forest Service intranet (FSWeb). When it is implemented, WebGIS is used as a display and query tool, but not for data entry and analysis. The most common form of geospatial data served over the Web by the Forest Service is in the form of static maps, such as PDF and JPG files, and flat files, such as ASCII text, Excel files, and metadata. Some Forest Service staff do not use Forest Service WebGIS at all, but use WebGIS served through universities and other sources.

Displaying and querying data (returning graphical and attribute results) is common to all sites currently used, with the use of basic display functionality far outweighing the use of the query functionality. The capability to analyze (other than visual analysis) and edit have yet to be implemented. Currently, there are no Forest Service WebGIS applications that allow the user to edit geospatial data directly, such as the use of ArcGIS Server technology. However, in some applications, like the Naturewatch site currently being developed by the GSTC, tabular data can be entered by Forest Service staff. In such instances, coordinate data that are entered, such as lattitude and longitude coordinate pairs, later show up on the map as points.

In other instances, such as the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Carnivore Survey site, (http://sxgstc02.gsc.wo.fs.fed.us:8080/carnivore/Modules/application/home.html ), the map displays completed surveys. The site uses the GSTC’s clean JavaServer Pages (JSP) Arc Internet Map Server (ArcIMS) viewer. Phase II of the project is underway. (Note: ArcIMS is one one of an integrated collection of GIS software [e.g., ArcInfo, ArcEditor, ArcView, ArcPad] produced by ESRI. ArcIMS is a server-based product that provides a scalable framework for distributing GIS services and data over the Web. It provides Web publishing of GIS maps, data, and metadata, and enables Web sites to serve GIS data, interactive maps, metadata catalogs, and focused GIS applications. ArcIMS users access these services through their Web browsers using HTML or Java applications that are included with ArcIMS. See http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/arcims/index.html)

At the Chugach National Forest site, a user could provide comments on the Draft Forest Plan Revisions by interacting with a map of the Forest. A user can zoom to any location, identify a particular place of interest, and then enter comments in a text block about that location. Their comments are then emailed along with a map to forest planners. This site was developed by ESRI and is currently being modified (and therfore is off-line) by the GSTC so that it can be hosted by the Chugach National Forest. (Also see section B.3 for more details.)

There are other examples of WebGIS currently being applied to forest planning and management and other resource management Web sites. For instance, the Southwest Idaho Ecogroup (SWIE) , a three-forest area in southwest Idaho consisting of the Boise , Payette, and Sawtooth National Forests, developed an interactive mapping application with ESRI’s ArcIMS, in conjunction with the GSTC, to show draft management alternatives for their Land and Resource Management Plan Revisions and an EIS. SWIE has four objectives: to enhance public understanding and trust, to inform the public, to obtain input on a variety of planning alternatives, and to facilitate effective collaborations.

To promote successful use, the SWIE Web site was designed to be easy and intuitive, allowing users to explore and interact with management alternatives. In all, the Web site provides faster and easier access to information and alternatives contained within Boise, Payette and Sawtooth National Forests. (Evans et al. 2004) The viewer is currently under reconstruction (http://svinetfc2.fs.fed.us/) but will use many out-of-the-box (OTB) tools, and should respond fairly quickly.

Another example is the online interactive map of the Giant Sequoia National Monument. This site was developed in conjunction with the GSTC to provide information about the area’s geographic aspects and to encourage creative and applied public interaction and participation in the Forest planning process. A secondary objective in this project was to develop Forest-level skills through technology transfer to enable basic updates and create customized map projects (Evans et al. 2004). The site emphasis is management issues (i.e., recreation, wildfire threat to mountain communities, and road access), and canbe found at (http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/gsnm.html). The site provides links to download metadata, which is an uncommon but useful feature.

Below are some other WebGIS sites that have been built by the GSTC (Links to the sites mentioned below can be found at http://maps.gsc.wo.fs.fed.us/):

 
 
  • Interactive Travel Access Maps:
    This pilot project uses INFRA data to create Web-based interactive travel access maps with ArcIMS for the public for 11 National forests across the country. It has a custom map interface that is more pleasing to view and is less of a load on the application server.

  • Dixie & Fishlake National Forest Plan Revision:
    This site provides JPG map files along with ArcIMS. The OTB implementation of ArcIMS is slow but useful and inexpensive to implement.

  • Manti-La Sal Forest Plan:
    Displays OTB ArcIMS viewer with Forest Plan base layers.

  • White River National Forest Travel Management Plan:
    Documents, newsletters and an interactive ArcIMS map viewer for the Travel Management Plan.

  • The Bitterroot, Lolo and Flathead National Forests are revising their Forest Plans to reflect new scientific information, as well as natural and social changes that have accumulated since the original plans were prepared, in the 1980s. GIF files can be downloaded from the “maps” page, but a link to their ArcIMS is not provided.

  • The Ashley National Forest provides an ArcIMS for their Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Study:
    This site has a clean interface that corresponds with GSTC’s JSP ArcIMS viewer look. No link from the Ashley National Forest Web site, but they are planning on adding one.

  • Ozark-St. Francis Forest Plan Revision ArcIMS:
    This JSP site displays the Ozark-St. Francis Forest Plan Revisions.

  • Fishlake National Forest Travel Management Analysis: OHV Management Plan Maps support the planning process. Uses GSTC’s clean JSP ArcIMS viewer.

GSTC’s development costs, in general, fall in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. Development costs have ranged from $5,000 for simple sites with limited functionality that are derivations of existing work, to $100,000 for complex sites with custom look and feel and advanced functionality. These costs do not include hosting expenses, which are now being co-funded by GSTC, RSAC, and off-the-top agency IT funding.

 
     
 

B.2 Use of WebGIS Outside the Forest Service

 
 

WebGIS is being used in many ways, some of which are becoming mainstreamed into everyday life. Some common uses of WebGIS are:

 
     
 
Outside the Forest Service, WebGIS is being put to use in a number of ways that could benefit the Forest Service, such as: natural resource management and monitoring, data dissemination, and project control and tracking. For instance, the VegMan site (prototype no longer on-line) was initialized to bring together many organizations responsible for natural resource management. They include “state and federal government agencies; local governments; economic development organizations; community-sector human services agencies; the mining and exploration industries; conservation interests; pastoralists; Aboriginal groups; broad-acre grain growers; horticultural producers and cotton irrigators; land care and catchment groups; research and education organizations; commercial service providers; recreational fishing interests; timber producers, millers and harvesters; and bee-keepers.” ( Zhu et al. 2001).

According to Zhu et al. (2001), VegMan could improve awareness of vegetation communities and conservation values to general interest parties, and could improve access to regional resource information and management strategies.

VegMan WebGIS application allows land managers and users with Internet access to obtain desired information from a central information resource, minimizing constraints on users’ hardware and software environments. VegMan’s user interface lets users retrieve information following conceptual links – knowledge about the mechanisms of information dissemination is not needed. The application integrates disparate and widely distributed information, queries specific data, and allows the user to analyze the feasibility or desirability of management options. In addition, WebGIS applications like this improve the currency of information, since data can be updated in a timely fashion

The OakMapper WebGIS application This website (www.oakmapper.org) is part of a comprehensive effort by U.C. Berkeley’s Center for the Assessment and Monitoring of Forest and Environmental Resources and the California Oak Mortality Task Force to map and monitor the spread of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) in oak and tanoak forests throughout California’s central coast and southwestern Oregon. Utilizing a community-based monitoring approach, citizens are encouraged to report trees displaying symptoms of SOD by filling out an on-line form, including pictures and tree specific symptoms. Users can view and print pre-made and customized maps. The Web site (www.oakmapper.org) saw an average of 5 visitors a week between 1999 and 2003, and received 340 submissions. Use of the site is comprised of the scientific, management, regulatory and political communities ( Kearns et al. 2003). Unfortunately, the site takes a very long time to load, which discourages potential users from interacting with it and potentially contributing as part of the community-based monitoring network.

WebGIS is also being used as a tool within Web-based planning meetings. Web-based planning meetings help accommodate more participants than more traditional on-site planning meetings. Web meetings allow the public to attend, regardless of their geographic location, and make their opinions and concerns known without fear of confrontation. Using a well-made map as the main object of a Web-based system facilitates user familiarity with the area under discussion for planning purposes. An interactive map provides public users with an even greater measure of understanding, as they can identify spatial and topological relationships between items under debate. A PPGIS (public participation GIS) effectively communicates the opinions and concerns of the public with planning groups, community organizations, non-government entities and local authorities. WebGIS can play an important part in local planning, current development, and conflict resolution (Kingston et al. 2000).

The BLM is also using WebGIS in its land use planning process. Through their ePlanning site, http://www.blm.gov/eplanning/index.htm, the BLM hopes to bring the land use planning process to the public by providing access to land use planning documents that have been produced with ePlanning. The site lets you search for issues such as recreation, wildlife, or energy, and during comment periods, submit comments online. The ePlanning comment feature attaches your comment to particular text right out of the land use planning document or to a specific location on one of the document's online maps.

In addition to the ePlanning site, the BLM has developed a publication site (called GeoCommunicator) for the Bureau of Land Management's National Integrated Land System (NILS) transaction applications (Survey Management, Measurement Management, and Parcel Management). (See http://www.geocommunicator.gov/GeoComm/index.shtm) GeoCommunicator provides searching, accessing and dynamic mapping (WebGIS) of data for federal land stewardship, land and mineral use records from LR2000, and land survey information. GeoCommunicator also allows users to view USFS lands potentially eligible for sale under the "Secure Rural Schools Forest Service FY 2007 Initiative"; search, locate, and map the federal surface management agency for a parcel of land; and search, view and download the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) and other survey-based data.

 
     
 

B.3 Information Transfer with Web-based GIS

 
 

While the technology exists to transfer data from and to WebGIS, downloading data from a Web site is, by far, the most common data transfer direction, be it internal to the Forest Service or external to the public. The download of data includes geospatial data, static maps and tabular data sets. However, WebGIS is sometimes used as a tool to help define the area of interest on a map before the data download is initiated.

Forest Service WebGIS applications in California and Alaska for example, allow data upload which can then either be studied separately or applied to a map. One such application that was often referenced by the interviewees and other Forest Service staff is the previously mentioned (see Section B.1) Chugach National Forest IMS that was built to integrate public involvement and comments with geospatial data for Forest planning. The site allows users to zoom to any location within the Chugach National Forest, identify a particular place of interest, then enter comments in a text block about that location. When submitted, a JPG map of their area of interest is bundled with their comments and emailed to the Forest. This particular application uses WebGIS to help gather public comments, so in that sense the direction of information transfer is from the public to the Forest Service.

While information coming from the public is not directly interacting or changing the geospatial data on the Chugach National Forest site, the GSTC is currently building a site that allows the public to enter data to change a WebGIS map display. The Pacific Northwest Carnivore Survey site allows wildlife researchers with FSWeb access to enter information into a database that is then available for others to query. Alternatively, users can interactively search for completed carnivore surveys based upon user-defined criteria, then display the results in both map and tabular form. Use of this information sharing tool within the research community facilitates a common understanding of carnivores of the Pacific Northwest.

 
     
     
  BACK TO TOP