Using Maps to See What’s Out There — GIS and Beetles

Teal Wyckoff graduated from the University of Wyoming’s Environment and Natural Resources program in 2007, and now she is helping mentor students in the “Capstone course” for seniors in the program. It’s a good match considering her special knowledge of “geographic information systems,” a field in which she now has a full-time job.

Known as GIS, it is a computer software technology that helps people visualize data. It allows people to see a map representation of whatever information interests them about a landscape. In the case of bark beetles that plague forests in the Rocky Mountains, for instance, GIS uses satellite images to show how have spread over time, in Wyoming and in the region.

Using GIS, a researcher can see where beetle kill is now occurring — where are the green trees, and where are the red, dead ones —  and then add to that map visual information on where trees were green in 2000. But sometimes certain areas may remain green in the midst of red, beetle-killed areas. Why? To find out, the researcher can add more information to the maps, on other factors affecting the forest, such as temperature change over time and where logging or fires have occurred. With a map reflecting all of those factors, a researcher may be able to determine whether a certain age-class of trees re-emerged, and thus may not have been be as susceptible to bark beetles as older trees.

GIS technology profoundly and positively helps land managers, timber managers and forestry specialists manage timber resources. Land managers increasingly turn to GIS for its analytic and visualization tools to analyze complex situations and make better-informed decisions.

University of Wyoming graduate Teal Wyckoff performs research on bark beetle infestations in places the Red Canyon area of the Medicine-Bow Routt National Forest. (courtesy photo — click to enlarge)

Wyckoff said she loves to help people understand land management issues using GIS, and she finds it rewarding to help the students in ENR realize, as she did, just how this kind of technology can help them answer complex questions.

Wyckoff came to GIS work from being a firefighter in Montana. She was a wildland firefighter, trying to reduce fire fuels in forests and working for a rural fire department based out of Frenchtown, Mont. Wyckoff wanted to get a college degree and was particularly interested in attending UW after learning about the Environment and Natural Resources program, which she said was the perfect fit for her career goals. She got a dual degree, in Physical Geography and Environment and Natural Resources. The department  is nationally recognized for its dual degree program, allowing students like Wyckoff to combine a specialization with Environment and Natural Resources. Wyckoff said after she started the Environment and Natural Resources program she realized the important link between GIS and natural resource management. “GIS is not just a value-added component to research, it is essential to fieldwork,” she said.

Wyckoff is now a research scientist for UW’s Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center (WyGISC), and has worked as a GIS mentor of the capstone course for more than three years. “I really enjoy the process of working with students, educating them about the processes associated with GIS spatial representation and analysis while providing them with information more broadly on the relevance and widely applicable nature of GIS to varied topics,” she said.  “Helping to open a student’s eyes to the inherently spatial components of research is really rewarding.”

Wyckoff has an important connection to the university and the capstone course as a former student. She is currently focused on studying the impacts of global climate change on wildlife in Wyoming, as well as the anthropogenic influences on the landscape.

She said the capstone course gave her the basis from which she has continued to refine her scholarly interests while exploring the interface between policy and public outreach. “The capstone was definitely challenging, but by far one of the best experiences in terms of my academic course work at UW,” she said.“I came to Wyoming because I wanted to live in the West and study environmental issues. And ENR delivered, forming for me an introduction that has enabled me to further study natural resource management issues in the Rocky Mountain West.”

VIEW OR DOWNLOAD a map created using GIS to show beetle infestations in and around the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.

GeoCommunicator: A helpful source of information regarding land ownership and management , including Federal lease information pertaining to renewable energy, oil and natural gas and coal.

The National Map:  A site offered by the United States Geological Survey that can be used to view or download data.

ArcGIS Online: Make your own map online or use the online version of ArcGIS Explorer, which is like Google Earth. The site allows users to import data for personal map-making.

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Published on December 7, 2010

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