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The Salmon Resource and Sensitive Area mapping Project: Integrating a Natural Resource GIS with Field Operations Via Handheld Computer Applications

  • Robert, Carson
  • Wendy H., Wente
  • Milton, Hill
Published Article
Publication Date
May 19, 2007
Road Ecology Center John Muir Institute of the Environment
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The Salmon Resource and Sensitive Area Mapping (SRSAM) project was a unique effort undertaken by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to develop a Geographic Information System (GIS) of sensitive natural resource sites integrated with high-resolution digital color infrared imagery for the entire Oregon state highway system (approximately 9,000 miles). SRSAM data allow ODOT to plan maintenance and roadway/bridge project activities with up-to-date environmental resource data by providing maintenance workers, biologists, and transportation planners with access to a current, updateable database of sensitive environmental features. Taking full advantage of the SRSAM GIS for ODOT’s transportation planning uses required development of an effective system for delivering information to individual users in the field. To this end, ODOT contracted with Mason, Bruce & Girard, Inc. (MB&G) to develop two handheld computer applications that integrate spatially referenced data, including SRSAM’s sensitive resource data, with field data collection forms, thereby allowing users to view, manipulate, and enter data in the field. Use of these applications requires no specialized knowledge of GIS software, empowers users by providing access to an extensive database of environmental information, and through the use of standardized ArcPad forms for routine tasks improves the efficiency of field data collection and management. The first application addresses ODOT’s requirements for Mitigation Site Assessment, and enables biologists to spatially identify areas where maintenance or remediation is necessary. This allows a more rapid and efficient response when regulatory performance standards are not being met. The second application focuses on Environmental Scoping, the process by which ODOT identifies environmental issues likely to be associated with proposed projects. This coarse-level assessment requires numerous sources of environmental information. ODOT’s Environmental Scoping Application allows users to view over 20 reference data layers, including project-site imagery, while in the field. Other data layers within the Environmental Scoping application are dynamic, allowing users to update and correct spatially referenced environmental information based on their observations. The computer-based forms for both applications obviate the need to transcribe field data collected on paper, thus eliminating a time-consuming and error-prone procedure. Overall, SRSAM has provided a mechanism for ODOT to deliver sensitive natural resource data to maintenance crews, biologists, and transportation planners making field decisions that could impact sensitive resources. ODOT’s commitment to completing the SRSAM project state-wide was a key reason that ODOT’s routine road maintenance activities received a programmatic exemption under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The cost to ODOT of not obtaining the programmatic permit for maintenance activities has not been calculated, but surely would have been substantial (millions of dollars). Furthermore, the handheld computer applications, as well as the SRSAM GIS, offer a solution to a difficult ODOT challenge by standardizing data collection and storage techniques throughout the state, thereby streamlining ODOT’s efforts to protect sensitive resources. In sum, the SRSAM project represents an innovative, multifaceted solution to ODOT’s challenge of environmental compliance and stewardship.

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