The NatureMapping Program’s First Five Years

Karen Dvornich

Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Washington, Seattle

Since its inception in 1992, The NatureMapping Program has been identified as the outreach program for the Washington Gap Analysis Project (WA-GAP) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The program has become the outreach program for the National Gap Analysis Program and continues to pull in more partners in other states, including businesses. REI, for example, provides a NatureMapping field kit and other equipment at substantial discounts. ESRI, Inc. donated 100 copies of ArcView to Washington State teachers, and Maptech, Inc., the makers of Terrain Navigator, offer their CD-ROMs containing 7.5 minute and 1:100,000 topographic maps at half-price. Terrain Navigator has a very easy-to-use software interface allowing users to mark their locations and save them as a file which will record latitude and longitude (or UTM) and elevation. Geomantics, Inc. is another company helping us plan and design ways to distribute our printed materials nationally, via the program’s web site.

The popularity of the program in Washington State and nationally is growing exponentially. There are three audiences the program reaches: individuals, schools, and communities. The Washington State database, however, has become a repository for a fourth audience: researchers. Personal field notes and research projects where data are generated but not stored anywhere except on an individual’s computer, are being converted and submitted to the program for use by others. All data are tagged with an observer identification code if further information is needed by a user. Only the "GAP 1040" attributes are being stored in the NatureMapping database at the University of Washington. The GAP 1040 is designed after the IRS 1040, where we handle our finances differently, but we have to report them consistently. We want everyone to include these attributes, at a minimum, in their projects. Most data sets are linked on the web. Procedures to edit and update the database and maps on the web site ( have been developed during the analysis of the first five years’ data. The September 1998 cutoff consisted of 30,750 records. Additional data sets from organizations such as Adopt-a-Beach and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s backyard wildlife sanctuary winter bird count will be added for the next analysis. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of the categories of observers. It should be noted that although forty-eight teachers or schools submitted data, each of those may have involved 30 to 270 students and just as many parents in the data collection process.

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Figure 1. Categories of observers.

The community category is comprised of Seattle Audubon weekly field trips and local government sponsored projects where personnel work with community volunteers to collect wildlife and habitat data. Seattle Audubon’s field trip leaders have contributed 41% of the 30,750 records over the past three years.

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Figure 2. Total number of records submitted by observer category.

The program began receiving data in 1993, but some of the records go back to the early 1900s. These data are, for example, from a project that conducted an extensive literature review of Puget Sound water birds, or from personal field notes of an 85-year old naturalist that go back to 1964.

Approximately 415 species, including 23 herpetile species, 57 mammals, 3 marine mammals, and 1 salmonid have been reported and are currently undergoing further review. WA-GAP’s vertebrate distribution maps are the base maps on which the NatureMapping observations are overlaid for coarse-scale evaluation. Fine-scale evaluation is conducted on a species-by-species basis. Experts and other data sets are being used to edit aquatic species and winter bird observations.

Although the American crow was the most recorded species in the first three years of analysis, the American robin has moved ahead (Table 1).

Table 1. The top 20 species reported in the first five years.

Species ID Common Name Total Records
TUMI American robin 1,201
LAGL Glaucous-winged gull 1,182
COBR American crow 1,095
CECO Pigeon guillemot 668
ANPL Mallard 651
PAAT Black-capped chickadee 650
MELME Song sparrow 610
CYST Steller’s jay 582
ARHE Great blue heron 555
PIER Rufous-sided towhee 490
AGPH Red-winged blackbird 454
BRCA Canada goose 447
STVU European starling 437
HALE Bald eagle 426
BUJA Red-tailed hawk 399
HABA Black oystercatcher 391
COAU Northern flicker 378
JUHY Dark-eyed (Oregon) junco 370
PHAU Double-crested cormorant 355
HIRU Barn swallow 338

The web site is the primary tool to disseminate wildlife and habitat data and provide educational materials, data collection protocols, and other forms of information. The site receives approximately 11,000 hits per month. Other education and outreach activities include workshops. There are three workshops now offered. The Level 1 WILD NatureMapping Workshop focuses on terminology, species identification, and geography. Field work is conducted after an overview of data collection protocols and species identification tips. The ability to record the correct location of the observation is strongly emphasized. Each participant is provided with a 1:100,000 topographic map of their area and learns how to locate their Township/Range/Section, the common way of reporting wildlife in Washington. Washington state workshop participants receive their Township (36-square-mile) printout of the WA-GAP classified satellite imagery, with GAP land cover polygons, roads, rivers, and Township/Range/Section coverages. There are, however, instructions and resources provided to the participants for latitude and longitude identification. In states east of the Mississippi, which do not use Township and Range, participants are trained to find their latitude and longitude.

The Project Design Workshop is Level 2. Participants learn how to design monitoring projects for their backyards, schools, and communities. Wildlife ecology and management issues, animal behavior, and special projects directed by researchers and state and county agencies are highlighted, providing an opportunity for participants to work with local experts. Participants learn more about classifying and using their satellite imagery maps for their projects.

The Level 3 Workshop focuses on technology. Participants learn how to use The NatureMapping Program’s data entry software, export their data into a spreadsheet for additional analysis, and then import their data into ArcView. These workshops are held at the University of Washington’s School of Fisheries computer lab and at Washington State University’s (WSU) Spokane branch GIS lab. WSU is a recent partner offering training for participants in eastern Washington and northwestern Idaho.
In an effort to meet the demand for NatureMapping by other states, the program held its first annual meeting May 1998 in Silverdale, Washington. Representatives from Washington, Idaho, California, Virginia, Washington D.C., Iowa, Canada, and Norway attended. Presentations included Virginia’s 20-month-old NatureMapping equivalent, WildlifeMapping; Iowa’s plans to begin with a focus on freshwater mussels; and Norway’s national student/scientist water quality monitoring program. The Orchard Prairie School is the second smallest school district in Washington. Their second-through-seventh graders have been NatureMapping for two years and traveled across the state to present their biodiversity skit to the meeting participants. Orchard Prairie’s NatureMapping work is highlighted on a kiosk at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, which receives almost a million visitors a year.

The next annual meeting will be held again in Silverdale, with more time devoted to non-native species, freshwater fish, and marine animals. Status reports will be presented by states in various stages of the program. A full-day field trip to the Theler Wetlands will be repeated to collect data and work with the community on the major issues facing their watershed, such as the salmon listings, water quality, development and restoration, and wildlife use within the estuary and surrounding town.

The NatureMapping Program focuses on

  • education,
  • dissemination of Gap Analysis and other biodiversity data sets to a local level,
  • research using data submitted by the participants, and
  • feedback in the form of data, information, maps, and personal conversations.

This focus has allowed it to become an integral part of the WA-GAP, WDFW, and the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Planning activities with county planners. County analysis is conducted in an ecological context using WA-GAP data and further refined by county and WDFW data. The first county, Spokane, has used the corridor and reserve recommendations to address their critical-areas ordinances and state-legislated growth management act requirements. A second county, Pierce, will begin in 1999 and will add an aquatic component since salmon have been listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act. In both cases The NatureMapping Program acts as a conduit for educating the public. It includes its participants in ground-truthing and verification of the proposed corridors and open spaces. It involves the public, including schools, in their county’s decision-making process. Also, the NatureMapping Program receives and distributes data for its public database. If all counties become involved, the end result will be a state map of corridors and reserves developed using landscape ecology as the guiding principle, then refined and monitored by land planners and citizens within their own political boundaries. This process not only fulfills the Gap Analysis Program’s mission to promote conservation of biodiversity through information and to facilitate the application of this information to land management, but guarantees the implementation of a statewide strategy to conserve Washington’s natural biological diversity.