GIS - if there was stock in it I'd buy it; it's the best thing since popcorn, television and Microsoft Windows! Now information has a face not just facts. GIS - Geographic Information System - is a visual expression for data, numbers, demographics - everything!

Ordinary people all over the planet are doing extra-ordinary things by mapping details in their particular circle of life. Breechcloth-clad Amazon Indians are mapping 10 million acres of indigenous rainforest to protect their land claims; Russians are mapping historical sites and integrating common citizens to fortify the conservation movement; American kids are mapping air quality and monitoring urban forests; farmers and ranchers are mapping their lands and making the most of each acre; even high-end shopping malls use it to direct high-rollers to pricey items. Of course the government and military use it for spying and mapping out the logistics for war; engineers and planners use it to predict and map development and other metropolitan conditions. NASA contributes with satellite images downloadable from the Internet to use to underlay data collected on the ground, and there are lots of imagery resources available for any spot on the globe. And all this imagery is geo-referenced with GPS or XY coordinates – that's latitude and longitude.

Progressive educators use GIS to motivate their students to study geography or 'map' social and political issues, as well as, environmental ones. Kids pick this stuff up easily, while adults are a bit more afraid of change.  In fact, ESRI, the developer of ArcView- the most widely used GIS software in the world, donated several programs to local schools in October 2001 to study Geography, the Environment, or any issue they wish - no strings attached. ESRI reckons the kids of today will be the work force of tomorrow and anticipate them discovering innovative ways to integrate this technology into every industry and aspect of life.

The College of the Sequoias has started offering classes in GIS, and related GPS fields used for Precision Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Robert Neilson, adjunct COS instructor, has started the GIS wave for many local professionals and non-professionals alike. $29 will get anyone six-weeks of training to learn this vital new technology. Sadly, Fresno State Univ. only offers GIS with surveying and engineering courses. Mark Clark of the Tulare County Resource Management Agency has been a GIS evangelist for years. He had the foresight to educate himself in GIS many years ago and is one of the foremost GIS gurus in the Central Valley. Unfortunately, he's in the Reserves and has been called into service. Our military can certainly use his GIS skills right now.

It's 'a natural- for environmentalists and naturalists to embrace GIS, but resistance to GIS and GPS technologies keep our nation's land conservation surveys and studies in the Dark Ages. As stewards of millions of acres of conserved natural landscapes, leaders in the land trust movement need to be enthusiastic advocates for GIS. Ordinary volunteers can be trained to help study and monitor local landscapes and provide data to assist in making intelligent land management decisions, instead of best guesses. Professional field biologists don't have enough time and their fees are sky-high, while volunteers' time is free. We need to promote GIS in every level of education.

GIS will modernize and organize the stewardship of urban forests and natural lands. Let's put willing, able and ordinary citizens to work to study and improve our environment.

Irene Lindsey
Former trail guide at Kaweah Oaks Preserve
Former Board Member of the Four Creeks Chapter of Sequoia Riverlands Trust (formerly Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust)

links:
Amazon Indian story at MSNBC.com/news/861837 date January 23, 2003, by Alan Boyle
Russian story at www.scgis.org - January 2003 newsletter
Kids and GIS - visit GIS Day USA
ESRI.com  GIS and Mapping software providers

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