As demands on use of natural resources increase, proper land management and land use planning will be critical to ensure renewable resources and adequate habitat for fish and wildlife populations. Unfortunately, species and the habitats that support them are disappearing at an alarming rate. Within the United States (US) alone, 1,087 species of plants or animals have been listed as threatened or endangered. As a result, "biodiversity" has become a familiar term and an important issue. How can we ensure adequate protection of animals and plants and the habitats on which they depend?
Past protective efforts have been reactive and have focused on species teetering on the brink of extinction. This strategy is difficult, expensive and inefficient, and has been unsuccessful in slowing the rate of extinction. Additionally, limited conservation dollars cannot keep up with recovery efforts for species currently listed as endangered. A proactive approach is needed to identify and protect areas (habitats) that are critical to individual species or groups of species before their existence is threatened.
A proactive approach is currently being applied throughout the US using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by the National Gap Analysis Program. Gap Analysis focuses on maintaining populations of native species in their natural habitats. Satellite imagery is used to create a current land cover map for each state, on which the distribution of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals are overlaid.
The Gap Analysis Program, however, works on a coarse scale, analyzing ecoregions (relatively large geographic areas of land and water delineated by climate, vegetation, geology and other ecological and environmental patterns) within a state, the state itself, ecoregions that span multiple states, and the entire nation. Counties and other large land unit managers can use their information to complement the Gap information, but cities and communities need biodiversity report cards for their land planning decisions on a finer scale. The information is available. However, the technological tools to analyze satellite imagery and GIS maps, and information transfer via the Internet are still new. It also takes time for land managers, resource agencies, and teachers to understand how to apply all this new information to meet the needs of their communities, policies, and environmental education curriculum.
The Birth of NatureMapping
The Washington Gap Analysis Outreach Program began the process of educating the public on the products and uses of the Gap Analysis datasets by asking the public to become involved with the project. Audubon members and retired natural resource professionals were the first volunteers. A pilot project between the Washington Gap Analysis Project (WAGAP) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to include schools began with 23 teachers in September, 1993, grew to 500 in 1996 and still is growing. Today more than 50,000 people in Washington have contributed to the program. The Outreach Program is now called The NatureMapping Program, and citizens, community groups, city, county and state organizations have joined to collect data that is available to everyone. Other states, such as Virginia, Iowa, and Wisconsin have begun NatureMapping, and many other states are preparing to begin.
Learn about the Iowa NatureMapping Program