ArcWatch: GIS News, Views, and Insights

November 2014


Ten Inspirational Wilderness Conservation Maps

By Barbara Leigh
Esri Writer

You can explore remote wilderness areas in Alaska, Oregon, and other parts of the western United States using a stunning GIS mapping app called Wilderness in Context, which is online and on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. This is just one of the maps Esri is showcasing as part of a celebration of America's Wilderness Act.

Esri is a longtime advocate of environmental conservation, so in concert with Wilderness50, a coalition of agencies, organizations, and universities, Esri is encouraging citizens to learn about and preserve wilderness in their areas.

The Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964. The act established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and set aside 9.1 million acres of wilderness. Today, federal and nongovernment agencies use geographic information system (GIS) technology to manage more than 100 million acres of wilderness. These agencies also use GIS technology to make wilderness information available to the public.

This Story Map displays the winning photographs in the  Wilderness Forever photography competition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  This photo, called Clearing Storm, was taken by Harry Lichtman.
This Story Map displays the winning photographs in the Wilderness Forever photography competition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. This photo, called Clearing Storm, was taken by Harry Lichtman.

The following 10 organizations have created maps and GIS services that anyone can use to create maps, perform analysis, and share information. All are free and easy to use.

  1. The University of Montana, with four federal agencies, collaborated on Wilderness.net, which connects people to their wilderness heritage. Rich in information, this service offers an interactive map and free downloadable mobile mapping apps. While on the trail, hikers can use these informative apps on their smartphones to learn more about the areas they are visiting and help maintain the environment for future visitors.
  2. The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History has opened a photography exhibition, Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America's Wild Places, which will run through summer 2015. Within this exhibit, two GIS applications that geospatially tell the story of America's wilderness areas are featured on kiosks and available online. One is Wilderness in Context, which geographically provides vital wilderness information about size, remoteness, climate, and terrain. The other is Explore the Photographs, a delightful story map presenting exquisite wilderness photography across the American landscape.
  3. Viewers will see temperature averages in the US when they use a mapping tool from NOAA's Climate.gov website.
    Viewers will see temperature averages in the US when they use a mapping tool from NOAA's Climate.gov website.
  4. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses GIS to publish the nation's weather information. The health of America's wilderness areas is closely linked to climate and weather. NOAA's Climate.gov platform makes the administration's maps available to everyone. Communities everywhere can use this information to create climate-resilient strategies to preserve nearby wilderness areas.
  5. The US Geological Survey (USGS) built a national geodatabase that contains public land ownership data including conservation status codes. The service makes US conservation efforts transparent for everyone.
  6. The US National Park Service (NPS) developed NPScape, a map service that offers user-friendly tools that help people get answers to their conservation questions. For example, by combining total human-population by census block-group data with the location of Saguaro National Park, a land-use planner can easily create a map that shows urban sprawl relevant to wilderness areas.
  7. You can download watershed data and more using the USFWS National Wetlands Mapper.
    You can download watershed data and more using the USFWS National Wetlands Mapper.
  8. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designed National Wetlands Mapper to promote the conservation and understanding of wetlands. This easy-to-use GIS viewer is particularly useful to anyone who wants to integrate wetland data with other digital map data and better understand wetland relationships and patterns.
  9. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) developed the Conservation Almanac to geographically show conservation spending and statistics by location. Anyone can use the interactive map to discover, analyze, and map the results of federal, state, and local funding for land conservation all the way back to 1998.
  10. The Wilderness Society (TWS) uses the Solar Energy Environmental Mapper, which is an application sponsored by the US Department of Energy and the BLM. TWS uses the application to analyze the Solar Energy Development program in the west and reduce the impact of solar farms on wilderness areas. Agencies and the public have open access to this solar project data. They will find it particularly insightful in weighing the value of alternative energy and land preservation.
  11. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) GIS services include a broad assortment of conservation maps at local, national, and global levels. For example, TNC's US Priority Conservation Areas National map identifies 9,000 priority areas needing conservation. Once a location is entered into the search tool, the map zooms in to the location and shows conservation targets in the area—perhaps a brown pelican or a gopher tortoise.
  12. The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) created the publication site GeoCommunicator. It provides public land descriptions, surveys, range allotments, and site-specific geospatial data for location-based decision making. People can use GeoCommunicator to see BLM-managed areas of critical environmental concern. They can use the map to zoom to anywhere in the United States, find environmental concerns in areas near them, and take action. Esri and Wilderness50 celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of America's Wilderness Act at the National Wilderness Conference, October 15–19, 2014, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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