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Geographic Information Systems


Geographic Information Systems (GISs) are a relatively new development in computer technology of particular interest to wildlife and natural resource managers (Peterson and Matney 1986). A GIS consists of software, hardware, and personnel for performing spatial analysis. Many of the things that wildlife managers do with maps, such as calculate areas, measure distances, and calculate amount of edge, now can be automated with GIS technology. The concept of using GISs for resource management can be credited to Ian McHarg. In Design With Nature, McHarg (1969) manually overlaid a series of maps on geology, physiography, major aquifers, soils, forest types, wildlife distributions, unique sites, slopes, and other characteristics of the land to generate maps depicting areas most suitable for agriculture, for urban expansion, and for mining, and various other maps depicting land suitability. GISs automate the making of these types of maps and the combining of many maps to create new information.

A study of 61 fish and wildlife agencies in the U.S. revealed that GIS use is widespread and growing rapidly (Rodcay 1991). Thirty-nine percent of the agencies used GISs regularly in their programs, 30.2% used GISs rarely, and 30.5% were not using GISs. Seventy-three percent of those agencies not using GISs plan to use them in the near future. For those agencies using GISs, habitat mapping was the most common use. Other applications included land use inventory, vegetation mapping, species distribution estimation, preferred habitat definition, and land development planning.

Wildlife managers have used GISs for monitoring wetlands for waterfowl habitat (Barnard et al. 1981, Koeln et al. 1988), for mapping Florida scrub jay habitat (Breininger et al. 1991), for evaluating grizzly bear (Craighead et al. 1986, Agee et al. 1989), lesser prairie-chicken (Cannon et al. 1982), and elk habitat (Leckenby et al. 1985), for preserving biological diversity (Davis et al. 1990), for monitoring wood stork foraging habitat (Hodgson et al. 1988), for analyzing radiotelemetry data (Koeln and Cook 1984, Young et al. 1987), for characterizing the spatial structure of habitats (Heinem and Mead 1984, Ripple et al. 1991), for characterizing ecotones (Johnston and Bonde 1989), for predicting wildlife densities (Palmerim 1988, Broschart et al. 1989), for modeling the spatial distribution of species (Palmerim 1987, Walker 1990), for designing reserve systems (Saxon and Dudzinski 1984, Murphy and Noon 1991), for examining the cumulative impacts of habitat loss (Johnston et al. 1988, Gosselink and Lee 1989), for quantifying beaver pond creation (Johnston and Naiman 1990a,b), and in many other ways (de Steiguer and Giles 1981, Steenhof 1982, Lyon 1983, Mayer 1984, Peterson and Matney 1986, Ormsby and Lunetta 1987, Scepan et al. 1987, Stenback et al, 1987, Miller and Conroy 1990, Shaw and Atkinson 1990).

The intent of this chapter is to provide wildlife managers and wildlife management students an overview of the technology of GISs. Many universities offer graduate and undergraduate courses in GISs. Various books, journals, and other publications are listed in this chapter for those wanting to further explore the use of GISs in wildlife management and research.

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