Local Government Plays Significant Role in Resolving Resource Conflicts

Alaska's North Slope Borough Brings GIS to Bear

The Beaufort Sea Coastal Zone Management plan has demonstrated that mapping software plays a crucial role in resolving resource conflicts.The North Slope Borough (NSB), Alaska, was one of the first in the world to use GIS in a local government's decision making process. Its GIS Division was established in 1982 as a result of the foresight of the late Mayor Eben Hopson. He was convinced by early geoprocessing enthusiasts from Esri, the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Army Corps of Engineers that GIS would become an essential tool for meeting the requirements of NSB code in terms of resource mapping, zoning, tax assessment census information, and documenting traditional land use.

As early as 1978, the NSB's Beaufort Sea Coastal Zone Management plan clearly demonstrated that mapping products play a crucial role in resolving resource conflicts. In 1982, close to $4 million was appropriated to establish the NSB Department of Planning and Community Services Geographic Information System Division (NSB/GIS). The goal of the GIS was to provide the NSB with the tools and information to track and assess cumulative impacts to the marine and terrestrial subsistence resources and to support Arctic science research. This daunting task (the North Slope NSB spans an area of approximately 89,000 square miles, all of it in the high Arctic) was made even more difficult by first establishing the GIS program in Anchorage, Alaska, and 10 years later moving the entire operation to Barrow, Alaska, approximately 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Nevertheless, the NSB/GIS program is thriving. In addition to collecting data, creating maps, and performing analysis in support of Planning Department activities, the NSB/GIS provides information and products to many other NSB departments. The GIS creates products that effectively communicate NSB concerns to federal and State agencies; contributes work to private entities, such as the Alaska Geographic Atlas and the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium; and supports climate research projects within the Barrow Environmental Observatory. Also, GIS services and products are available to all North Slope NSB residents.

Since its earliest days the NSB/GIS has used a wide range of Esri software to accomplish its day-to-day and long-term projects. ArcInfo was recently migrated from the UNIX to Windows NT platforms. Application development using ArcView GIS and MapObjects is under way. And the Department of Permitting, Tax Audit, and Assessing is deploying an Intranet using Esri's Internet Map Server (IMS) technology.

Among the most recent, current, and future projects are

Official NSB zoning maps created from ArcInfo using AMLNSB Zoning Maps--The NSB/GIS and the Permitting and Zoning Division of the Planning Department developed the first series of official NSB zoning maps. The series includes village- level zoning, Resource Development Districts, the Transportation Corridor District (the Haul Road), etc., and was officially approved and adopted by the NSB Assembly. The project was designed so that updates or amendments to the zoning areas can be incorporated quickly and easily. Current maps are created from ArcInfo using ARC Macro Language (AML).

National Petroleum Reserve--Alaska, Draft Environmental Impact Statement (NPR-A, DEIS)--The NSB/GIS contributed to the production of the NPR-A, DEIS and had significant input in the development of the DEIS basemaps. In addition, ArcView GIS was used to generate a series of transparent overlays to show base and natural resource data and a combination of subsistence hunting and traditional knowledge information in a region where seven of the eight North Slope villages would be impacted by proposed lease sale activity.

The first bilingual topographic map of the North Slope Borough created using ArcInfoBilingual Map of the North Slope NSB--Using ArcInfo, the NSB/GIS created the first bilingual (Inupiat and English) topographic map of the North Slope NSB. This project required the design of a custom Inupiat font set.

An ArcView GIS plot plan of a North Slope townsite lot.Native Allotments Project--The NSB/GIS coordinated with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to automate the North Slope native allotment Master Title Plats and to compile the associated land records from the BLM and the Bureau of Indian Affairs databases. A desktop application using ArcView GIS has also been developed, and distribution for this sensitive information is currently being considered.

Traditional Land Use Inventory (TLUI)--The NSB/GIS is working to develop planning tools to input, query, and report traditional knowledge through close coordination with the Inupiat's history, language, and culture and its commission of elders. MapObjects and Visual Basic were used to develop a user-friendly interface for the TLUI database. The database contains detailed tabular and visual information about sites in both Inupiat and English.

Mapping Support for Search and Rescue Missions--The NSB/GIS responded effectively to requests for mapping support during three separate rescue missions, providing custom maps and developing an automated ArcInfo procedure for plotting Personal Locator Beacon and other mission-related data, such as subsistence camp and cabin locations, and aeronautical sectional charts.

Harvest Documentation Projects--The NSB/GIS continues to support the NSB Department of Wildlife Management in both their Subsistence Harvest Documentation and Whale Harvest Documentation projects. GIS mapping efforts contribute to the data collection procedures and illustrate reports submitted to federal and State agencies.

Support for the Alaska Division of Fish and Game (ADF&G)--North Slope natural resources play a significant role in the overall well-being of the environment and North Slope residents. The NSB/GIS regularly takes part in ADF&G wildlife surveys, studies, and public education efforts by actively assisting the data acquisition and mapping processes.

Coastal Zone Management--The Permitting and Zoning Division of the NSB Department of Planning and Community Services is strengthening its role in the Alaska Coastal Management program. The NSB/GIS will support this effort by updating the Coastal Resource Atlas and by providing mapping support throughout the decision making process itself.

For more information, contact Allison Graves, North Slope Dept. of Planning and Community Services (tel.: 907-852-0333, fax: 907-852-5991), or John Stroud, Esri in Alaska (tel.: 907-344-6613, fax: 907-344-6813, Web: www.co.north-slope.ak.us/gis). (A version of this article first appeared in Qausagniq: The North Slope NSB Newsletter, October 1998. Used with permission.)

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