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Leveraging The Power of GIS for Conservation

Keeping up with information concerning conservation, restoration, birds and wildlife can be an immense project, especially on a landscape as diverse and complex as the Louisiana coast. 

By leveraging the power of GIS, Geographic Information System, Audubon Louisiana can analyze, store and manipulate spatial data to help translate these complex issues to a broader audience through mapping, graphs and other visual representations. “Coastal Louisiana is a very dynamic environment that’s always changing; the birds are continually adapting and that interaction between the landscape and wildlife results in a large amount of data to work with from a scientific viewpoint,” says Geomorphologist and Geographic Information Systems Analyst for Audubon Louisiana, Lindsay Nakashima. 

Important Bird Area map created for Audubon Louisiana’s website Photo: Lindsay Nakashima, Audubon Louisiana

To utilize this system, Audubon Louisiana and its partners use a mapping platform powered by Esri called ArcGIS to collect and share data. Staff and volunteers are able to use applications to show multiple layers of information in an easy to navigate map. “Any spatial information that can be gathered is stored, manipulated and deployed in maps that can be further evaluated on devices ranging from cell phones to desktop computers,” says Nakashima, “Instead of looking at a bunch of tables, that information can be managed, analyzed and summarized visually on a map base for presentation in soft- and hardcopy exhibits.” This arrangement provides Audubon Louisiana, and the National Audubon Society, with the flexibility to see what is currently happening in terms of climate change, conservation, restoration and wildlife as well as to predict what will occur within those categories. 

Murrell Butler Oak Hill Nature Preserve located in Bayou Sara, Louisiana Photo: Lindsay Nakashima, Audubon Louisiana

The National Audubon Society and its state locations are able to use GIS technology thanks to 11 million dollars in funding from the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri). Esri was founded in 1969 by Laurie and Jack Dangermond, known as, “The Godfather of Digital Maps” (M.H., 2016). Dangermond also funds the Dangermond GIS Fellowship, a partnership between Esri and the National Audubon Society, that is a learning platform to bring up the next generation of leaders in GIS technology.

“We use publically available data as well as some of our own generated data,” says Nakashima, “We can take that information and put it into a database or geodatabase that can be used by any GIS analyst.” The many branches of Audubon Louisiana present this information in newsletters, magazines, public presentations, blogs, scientific meetings, publications, and coastal/land use permits.  

There are many ways for staff, partners, and volunteers to collect and insert data into this system. For example, a fathometer and GPS can be attached to a boat at a dredging site to record the data digitally, which in turn can be loaded seamlessly into the GIS to identify the effects of dredging in a canal. 

NFWF marsh restoration site: Dredge summary from fathometer and GPS data Photo: Lindsay Nakashima, Audubon Louisiana

GIS is an extremely effective analytical tool that Audubon Louisiana and its partners utilize in their mission to conserve, restore, and protect the avian environments in Louisiana. 

M. H. (2016, February 29). The Godfather of Digital Maps. Retrieved August 01, 2016

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