Analysis and mapping using GIS are integral parts of ecosystem-based conservation planning. GIS is a computer system capable of assembling, storing, manipulating, and displaying geographically referenced or spatial information, i.e. data identified according to their locations.
GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems and is the generic name for a type of computer software which provides a method:
- to link maps of geographic (or spatial) information to computer data bases of attribute information. That is, the computer knows where things are located on a map, and it knows as many specific facts about each thing as we choose to tell it.
- to mix, match and compare maps to answer questions about how spatial features interact and relate.
- for a skilled user to answer complex questions about land and resources which were previously unanswerable due to funding and time limitations.
GIS is an excellent tool for analysis and landscape planning. The investment in developing an accurate, practical GIS database yields flexibility and depth of ecological and economic interpretations that were not previously possible. However, acquiring and organizing data in a GIS is time consuming, and in-depth analysis requires a skilled GIS technician. Thus, many communities may find developing GIS analysis and mapping to be a daunting proposition. Silva provides GIS services in our EBCP projects and will also train local GIS technicians in skills useful in EBCP projects.
Under the guidance of a skilled user, the power of GIS is its ability to answer important questions about landscape ecology patterns and processes, and resource use patterns and impacts, but only after acquiring and organizing large amounts of data.
GIS-enhanced ecosystem-based conservation planning is particularly important where divergent interests and values need to be considered. In such situations, ecosystem-based conservation planning defines the ecosystem composition, structure, and function that are required to maintain short and long-term ecosystem functioning at all scales―ecosystem health/ecological integrity. Such an analysis serves as a foundation for thoughtful decisions including the location of ecological and cultural reserves, linkages, and human use areas; and the characteristics of a diverse, ecologically sustainable economy.
A caution: while GIS makes attractive maps which can impress an audience, the maps may contain information which is unreliable or incorrect. Above all, GIS reflects the views, choices and assumptions of the users.
You can find out more about using GIS in our book, Maintaining Whole Systems on Earth’s Crown: Ecosystem-based Conservation Planning for the Boreal Forest.