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Winter 2009/2010
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Enterprise Product on Demand Technology Significantly Improves Efficiency for U.S. Forest Service

Dynamic Topographic Basemap Production


  • GIS helps USFS reduce basemap revision cycle.
  • USFS users can generate maps on the fly with custom quad extents.
  • The new system eliminates dependence on film-based map printing.

Esri ServicesThe U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was established in 1905 as an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the mission "to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run," according to Gifford Pinchot, its first chief. Today, USFS operates through nine geographic regions and manages 193 million acres of the United States' national forests and grasslands.

The USFS Geospatial Service and Technology Center (GSTC) is responsible for producing and disseminating geospatial data as well as providing a wide range of technical support services to the USFS. GSTC directly supports mission-critical activities, such as forest planning, recreation, habitat modeling, forest health protection, resource inventory management, transportation management, and fire planning and response.

The Challenge: Improving Map Production Efficiency

  click to enlarge
ArcSDE database-driven symbology via ArcGIS Server Map Service.

GSTC manages the production and maintenance of basemap products covering the lands managed by the USFS. These products include 1:24,000- and (in Alaska) 1:63,360-scale topographic maps. In the contiguous 48 states, the map extent is 7 1/2 minutes by 7 1/2 minutes. In Alaska, the map extent is either 15 minutes by 20 minutes or 15 minutes by 22 1/2 minutes. The extent of each map is known as a quadrangle, or quad. GSTC manages more than 10,600 quads.

Historically, any revision of a quad required generating five film-based color separation layers. Over the years, map revision has become increasingly expensive using this process. Making very minor revisions was cost prohibitive. In addition, it took over 10 years for a specific quad to be scheduled into GSTC's map revision program and then revised.

The Solution: Enterprise Product on Demand Technology

GSTC, through its close association with Esri Professional Services, learned of Esri's successful implementation of its Enterprise Product on Demand Service (ePODS) for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

Byron Taylor, GSTC project manager, says, "Knowing that the product had been successfully implemented at NGA was important as we considered the risks common to technology integration and analyzed the technology against Forest Service business requirements."

FSTopo ArcIMS user interface.

GSTC then contracted with Esri Professional Services to create a similar approach tailored to meet USFS needs—FSTopo. FSTopo is database driven and enables on-the-fly generation and downloading of large-scale topographic maps. The Web-based user interface allows users to browse and select data, then produce the desired map.

The FSTopo system was built on service-oriented architecture using Esri commercial off-the-shelf software. ArcGIS Server and ArcIMS provide the GIS Web services and portal functionality, respectively. The Web portal lets users access FSTopo anytime from any USFS computer.

The project team migrated GSTC's cartographic database to a geodatabase schema comprising descriptive subtypes and coded value domains. Once the database was populated, map template documents were constructed. The templates included static and dynamic margin elements.

While, traditionally, GSTC has produced these maps according to a standard, static quad extent, users can now choose a custom quad extent by selecting their own map centerpoint. This allows them to generate maps for user-specified areas of interest. The custom extent is displayed relative to the standard extent in a diagram in the margin. The declination diagram, showing the relationship between magnetic and true north, is generated according to the centerpoint selected by the user. The deliverable is a map in Adobe PDF, which the user can save, print, or plot. FSTopo maps use feature symbology that has been designated or designed according to product standards. Map marginalia are generated on the fly.

Reduce Map Production Time and Increase Efficiency

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Sample map produced using the FSTopo System.

Since the launch of FSTopo in June 2007, GSTC has achieved significant improvements in map production efficiency. Karen Nabity, GSTC map production expert working on the project team, reports, "By adapting the product on demand technology to meet our production requirements, we are able to get minor changes to the customer much faster." Now that edits are not subject to the film-based workflow, the turnaround time for minor revisions has been notably reduced from over 10 years to approximately 36 months. In addition, the costs and overhead associated with film-based printing have been eliminated. The FSTopo site provides 365/24/7 access to USFS users.

"FSTopo is key to our success as we leverage current technology to reduce map production costs and get more current information into the hands of users more quickly," says Nabity.

More Information

For more information, contact Byron Taylor, GSTC project manager, USFS (e-mail:, tel.: 801-975-3447), or Shree Rajagopalan, Esri (e-mail:; tel.: 909-793-2853, ext. 4327).

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