You Can Trust Nature

Earlier this month, I attended the A Week of Fire in Central Oregon fire science symposium in Bend, Oregon. It was a well-attended conference where I got to participate in the RX-310 course (The Ecological and Social Effects of Fire), sat in on some amazing fire science lectures, and learned that most folks trust nature – but not fire officials. Whoa. Back up. Did I just write that folks, people like you and I, trust our landscape’s inherent natural processes more than they trust the people in whom they place responsibility to protect their home from those natural processes? Well, if I didn’t, that’s what I meant to write. One of the aspects of this symposium that I found interesting was the inclusion of the social aspects of fire ecology. How is that we (residents, scientists, land managers) influence fire on the landscape and how does fire on the landscape influence us?

Jeff Kline, a U.S. Forest Service researcher, and Christine Olsen, Ph.D., a Research Associate and Instructor at the Oregon State University, presented the results of a survey they conducted among homeowners in central Oregon. They asked homeowners 25 questions about their fuel reduction activities on their property. And they also asked about what influenced their decision to conduct those activities and where they got their information. Their answers were both predictable and revealed a surprising, subtle relationship between these landowners and the fire-prone landscapes they live in. Results from Christine Olsen‘s survey showed that a little more than half of the landowners surveyed reduced fuels on their lands. This was a lot more than I had thought. Even though it would be nice if 100% reported they were actively managing their property, 56% is better than zero. What was also encouraging is that the surveyed showed Firewise programs did influence homeowners’ activities. Regardless of the motivation (“likes the way it looks”), the fact that Firewise programs had a positive influence on homeowners shows that federal and state efforts to engage the public are working! But what I found most interesting about the survey is that when asked about trust, the responses were not what I would have expected. I’ll present that question and the results in their entirety:

EDIT: my apologies to Ms. Olsen. Her paper is in the publication process and she has asked that I remove the screen shots of her paper. So, you get my terrible summary. My apologies.

In one of the questions, the respondents were asked about where they get their fire safety information from, whether they trusted the person or agency from which the information originated and whether they thought the information was important in their decision making process (as far as fire mitigation efforts were concerned).

Most folks got their information from the local fire department, a family member, or the U.S. Forest Service. Among those three, 62.6% fully trusted their family members, 80.7% fully trusted their local fire department and only 59.2% fully trusted the U.S. Forest Service.

What’s interesting to compare is the local fire department and the U.S. Forest Service. I pick these two for the obvious reason: the local fire department scored the highest in trust and importance, however, we all know, they have little influence over the management of the wildlands that surround these homeowners. The agency that does manage those lands are more than likely to be the U.S. Forest Service (simply because they own the most land in these rural settings). Notice that that agency score significantly lower on the trust and importance question. One might deduce that homeowners do not particular trust the one agency that has some of the most influence on whether a wildland fire occurs near their home and very well may be the agency that is ultimately responsible for protecting their home in the event of a wildland fire.

On the other hand, the respondents placed their complete trust in the fact that a wildfire, a natural process, in the vicinity of their home was only a question of time. Most (71%) believed that the chance of a wildfire occurring close to their home in the next five years was 50% or greater – even though only 2.3% had ever been evacuated from their home due to a wildfire. In other words, they know its coming – just not when. And the one agency that is responsible for managing those huge tracts of land where a wildfire is inevitable? The study showed that the U.S. Forest Service needs to improve the communication of their land management policies (wildland fire management versus “let burn” policy), because folks just didn’t trust the agency to use fire* near their homes.

EDIT: Image removed per request from study author.

If you’d like to find out more, please contact Jeff Kline with the U.S. Forest Service or Christine Olsen with Oregon State University. *Fire use to manage large tracts of land is becoming more popular with public land agencies. Fire ecology studies show the many ecological and fire risk benefits result from the use of managed, recurring fire.

CalGIS 2014

Is over!

Did you attend? I did and I’m very glad that I did so. I sat in on the Open Source session on Monday where we were awed by the free (yes, free!) GIS software packages out there, specifically QGIS and MapBox. I’ll be delving more into both in the next month and will post about my experiences with each (both good and bad).

The second day of the conference featured two talks: one by Mike Migurski from Code of America and representative from Google (didn’t catch him name, there was a switch up in the presenters, but I’ll have his name by the time I post again!). Both talks were inspirational, but also a little scary. The industry is moving so far beyond my current skillset, I wasn’t sure where I fit in.

That afternoon we had a “town hall” discussion about geospatial education and whether our current educational programs was meeting the industries needs. Sad to say, but it became clear that geospatial programmers are hot on the list. We were then bombarded with several lightning talks (5 minutes each) from a variety of participates, each showing off their special projects – from Geocortex Web-based GIS to UC Merced’s new service center called SpARC.

The third day started out with a bike ride – which I was unable to participate in – darn allergies! But the day soon got started with several break out sessions. I attended the When People Move In, Data Data Data, and New Tricks and Tools sessions. I’ll discuss more from each in subsequent blog posts.

And lastly, the conference’s final two keynote speakers, Eric Gundersen from MapBox and Jack Dangermond from ESRI, gave some rousing rhetoric about where they each see the future of GIS. Again, very interesting and just a tad bit scary. I’ll explore some of the issues they discussed in subsequent blog posts. Suffice to know that each made me think long and hard about my chosen profession and have made me more committed to the geospatial sciences than ever before.

Until next time, map it!

CityEngine by ESRI

While watching an ESRI CityEngine webinar, the presenters included Overwatch, whom featured their ESRI extension called Feature Analyst.

Feature Analyst automates the collection of vector data from rasters or images. I know, that sounds simple, but it really is an amazing thing.

Check out the entire webinar here and learn about some of the amazing things capable with CityEngine.


Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium 2014


Will you be attending the Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium next month?

I will!

Here are the specifics:

3rd Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium – Please Join Us for an amazing “Week of Fire”

The week kicks-off Monday morning with the Ecological and Social Effects of Fire, a four day introductory course aimed at fuels and resource specialists and students interested in fire ecology offered in conjunction with the Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium and the Oregon Prescribed Fire Council meeting.

On Tuesday and Wednesday scientists will share their research at the 3rd Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium. Of particular note will be presentations on the recently completed Forests, People, Fire project; the effects of the Pole Creek Fire; fire history in lodgepole pine; fire in moist mixed conifer forests; wildfire and insect interfaces; and the effects of fire in Great Basin ecosystems.

Thursday is the inaugural meeting of the Oregon Prescribed Fire Council which will bring together a diverse group of people from around the state to discuss common issues of prescribed fire and the formation of a formal organization.

Join me in Bend, Oregon April 7th to the 10th, 2014 as we learn more about fire in our western landscapes.


Safety Matters

Photo taken by a GMIHC member on two-track road early on June 30, 2013 during test-fire operations.
Photo taken by a GMIHC member on two-track road early on June 30, 2013 during test-fire operations.

At the end of last year, I had the privilege of working with Wildland Fire Associates on a report. It was just one small report. All I did was spruce up their graphics and provided a map. I also helped out a bit with the editing.

Regardless of how little I contributed, the report content made me feel as if I was participating on something significant. I approached the project with humility and respect.

Based on that report’s findings, on December 4th, 2013, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) issued several citations to the Arizona State Forestry Division (ASFD) for events that led to the deaths of 19 firefighters on the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013.

On the Yarnell Hill Fire, a series of very unfortunate incidents and rapid-fire decisions put lives in danger – as they do in every wildland fire incident. However, how we approach each new challenge determines if that danger will be safely mitigated.

In an attempt to keep the national conversation on safety issues and in response to the Yarnell Hill Fire catastrophe, Wildland Fire Associates has created a Facebook page to focus on meaningful changes in firefighter safety.

Whether you agree with ADOSH’s decision to cite ASFD, and whether or not those citations will elicit changes in the fire fighting community, talking about what safety issues we need to address will guide us all towards a safer future. If you are a wildland firefighter, please join us at Safety Matters: A Wildland Firefighter Forum for Change.

Sonoma Land Trust

What better way to learn about the place you live than volunteering for a local non-profit?

Late last year, I did just that with the Sonoma Land Trust. While cleaning up an illegal Cannabis farm, I discovered yet another great location in Sonoma County – the Laugenburg Ranch near Calistoga. While there, I and my fellow volunteers also helped to clean up the remains of a previous tree planting effort. It was satisfying to help out and learn more about this great county I’ve adopted as my new home.

The farm is not open to the public, but they do occasional guided walks. You can join the Sonoma Land Trust’s email newsletter and find out when you might get a chance to view a special place in our community.

If you’d rather not get your hands dirty or take a walk in the woods, there’s a great benefit concert coming up on Feb 14th, 2014:

kitaroThe concert by Kitaro will help out three great organizations: Sonoma Land Trust, Santa Rosa Symphony and Everybody is a Star Foundation. You can buy tickets here.


Published Map

As a long time on/off member of the Bay Area Automated Mapping Association (BAAMA), I always thought it would be pretty cool to get a map of mine into their journal.

Of course, it would have helped if I entered anything.

At last, I did.

My map titled Federally Regulated Biological Resources in Alameda County is available in the journal’s new online website.

The map presented there was a re-designed poster-sized map of several maps designed to fit on an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper, like this one:

federally_regulated_14mapRENUMThough, I think the poster-sized one I submitted to the BAAMA Journal looks and reads better, but even that one I’d change and correct a lot of things that I didn’t notice until it was submitted. That’s always the way of it, huh?

Anyway, I’ll be sure to submit again next year. It was exciting and a challenge to participate.

Web Maps

As much as I love me some paper maps (see my previous post), most folks do not use them nearly as much as they used to.

I know I don’t.

With a smart phone in hand, there really is no excuse to scramble through your glove box looking for an out-of-date map. Or stop at a local store and buy a city map. For good or bad, the world we live in now includes digital maps.

And while those of us old-timers still appreciate a well-designed, ‘real’ map, web maps can do so much more.

You know how to access a web map. Those are everywhere and most of us have used Google, Yahoo, or Bing maps* to navigate our little slice of the world. But what if you wanted to show your data? How do you harness all that open-source goodness to show off your projects?

Google Maps

The ubiquitous Google provides the use of their map engine through the Google Map API. It is quite simple, and because of the proliferation of Google Earth (a desktop application), the data format widely used with Google Maps (.kml or .kmz) can easily be created or exported from many standard GIS software packages. Heck, if you are careful, you can just type the .kml file yourself. It really is that simple.

You’ll need several things to get started:

  1. Your data in .kml or .kmz format,
  2. A web page where you want to place your web map (and administrative access to that web page),
  3. A specific API key from Google,
  4. Time to write a bit of code.

That’s it. Once you have all those things in place, I guarantee you’ll have a map just like this one up and ready to go:

EDIT: Oops! I changed over to a new server and my JavaScript pluggins are on the blink. I will update soon!

Regardless, if you want to find out more on how to work with Google Map APIs, check out this site for a quick tutorial.

Open Layers (with GeoExt)

With as simple as Google Maps are, why would you not use it? Why are there so many other options?

One thing that Google likes more than anything else in the world is data. Specifically, your data. If you read the fine print when you sign up for a Google API key, you’ll see that once you accept their terms, your data is pretty much in the hands of Google to do as they please. Some folks may want to share their data that much.

For those folks unwilling to give Google full access to their database, there is Open Layers.

Open Layers is an open source API that allows anyone to use their base data as well as port over Google and Bing base maps. All for free. They do not require an access key. You have control over the javascripts and load them directly onto your website (rather than reference an online version as with the Google API), so you need never worry about a broken link because the API got upgraded. And it is just as simple to use as Google Maps.

You can check out quite a few examples here. As you peruse the simple examples, keep in mind, you can go a step further with Open Layers and use GeoExt. GeoExt, also open source, couples Open Layers with ExtJS, allowing for more customization.

If you want a more extensive tutorial on Open Layers visit Erik Hazzard’s site here. To find out more about GeoExt, just go to the source and start learning!


I just discovered Leaflet and I am quite impressed with what I’ve seen so far. Developed by Vladimir Agafonkin, an artist, the API’s look and feel is different…and maybe even better than Google Maps. That’s primarily because it is using OpenStreetMap‘s base maps that tend to use more vivid colors, but the coding does have some nifty short cuts that the other API’s just do not have (like adding map features with associated data with one line of code).

One thing to note, the API does relies on the Leaflet map script placed in the body (not the header) of your html as well as additions to your CSS. Just keep that in mind when building pages into automated coded websites (like any WordPress hosted site).

ArcGIS Online

For those of us who use ESRI products, ArcGIS Online feels like a home away from home. The terminology is similar to what we are used to and there’s very little file conversions we have to do to our geodatabases, shapefiles, and rasters. But, it is not as straight forward as the other examples listed above. Though you don’t need an ESRI license (at any level) to use ArcGIS Online, your options are limited without an ArcServer license. In addition, you are at the mercy of ESRI’s geoservers which can be slow for the likes of you and I.

Regardless of its drawbacks, ArcGIS Online provides a nifty platform to share you data, giving you access to cartography and analysis tools not available in most web mapping tools. You will need an ESRI global account to start, so I suggest signing up for one (it’s free). Once you’ve done that, create your masterpiece over on the ESRI site, then it is just a matter of embedding your map with a very small snippet of html code. Like this:

View Larger Map

(Yes, it takes a while to load.)

But! No Javascript necessary. The map is interactive (click on a line and get instant data). And if you click through on the ‘View Larger Map’ link, you’ll be taken to ArcGIS Online where you can explore much more.

Speaking of Much More…

Did you think that was it? There are many more web mapping options out there, but the above examples should get you started on simple web projects no matter your budget. If you have any questions on how to get your web map started, I would be more than happy to help.

EstherArt_BlkWritten by Esther Mandeno, owner of Digital Mapping Solutions

*I’m sure there are more commercial sites offering their map services.