Q: I understand that taking time to plan out a forestry activity is an extremely important step in protecting water quality. In order to keep up with the times I am interested in using new technology to help in planning my forestry operations. Can you make some suggestions?
A: I sure can. Many of you may be familiar with traditional forest planning tools such as aerial photos, paper topographic maps, and soil survey books. All of these resources are very useful and readily available to forest landowners, managers, and loggers today. However, with the rise of today’s technological society these tools are also now readily available on the internet, free of charge. Now, some of you may cringe or break out in a cold sweat at the thought of sitting down to a computer or going online. Not a problem! As I mentioned, soil surveys, topo maps, and aerial photos are all still available from local agencies, and the Texas Forest Service would be more than happy to help you locate these resources. Professional foresters also have access to these tools and use them regularly.
If, however, you are tech savvy, or know someone who is, or if you are just feeling adventurous here are some online forest planning resources that you may find helpful.
Topographic maps help you get an overall view of the forest and a feel for the layout of the land. They display elevation through a series of contour lines and show the location of roads, towns, pipelines, lakes, wetlands, streams, structures, and land cover across the landscape. They are useful for laying out road systems, estimating the costs of implementing best management practices, and avoiding wet area’s and steep slopes.
Free topo maps are available to download from the United States Geological Survey(USGS) Store. The interactive map locator allows you to navigate to any place in the Country and download all available maps (7.5, 15 and 30 minute topographic map series) for that location. TheNational Map Seemless Server, also maintained by the USGS, is another good source for free topographic maps (and much more). Click on “Seamless Viewer” on the left hand side of the screen.
Aerial photographs give you a bird’s eye view of the forest. While many of the features visible on aerial photos are also shown on topo maps, aerial photos tend to be newer and therefore reveal more current features of the landscape. Knowledge of current road systems may help in identifying backside access to a tract or avoid the expense of crossing a large stream. Aerial photos can also show existing land uses and the arrangement of forest timber types.
GoogleMaps is a free online mapping program that allows you to view and zoom in and out of aerial photos at nearly any spot on planet Earth, with the additional benefit of labeled roads, towns, and structures. GoogleEarth is a similar program, free for download, that also allows you to measure distances, mark points and areas, and displays additional map features. Google Earth also allows you to share the map information you generate with other Google Earth users, such as a consulting forester for example. Both of these programs offer the ability to view aerial photos in 3D. These aerial photos are frequently updated.
A great way to get started with Google Earth is by taking a look at “Making GoogleEarth Work for Land Management,” a free forestry webinar available online.
Knowing and understanding the soil type for the property that you are managing can be a tremendous help in protecting water quality during forestry activities. Soil surveys classify and describe the location and expanse of different soil types and contain other useful information, such as the location of wet areas, drainage patterns, and the grade of slopes. Soil surveys also provide important information related to forestry operations, such as a location’s suitability for logging roads, landings, equipment operability and tendency for erosion and compaction. This information can assist in locating new roads, identifying problems with existing roads, and avoiding wetlands and other sensitive areas.
Soil survey information for nearly any location in the United States is available for free using the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Web Soil Survey, a free online mapping program that allows you to locate and define an area of interest and explore the soil data to determine the suitability of the soils for a particular use. You can also produce custom soil maps and reports. Free copies of the traditional soilsurvey reports for each County in Texas are also available in .pdf format online.
While an in depth explanation and detailed instructions on how to use these individual resources is beyond the scope of this article, a lot of helpful information is available online for free. Generally, each site offers specific information on how to use and navigate their respective program. We understand that these tools may not necessarily be right for everyone, but the good news is that other means of obtaining the same information still exist. However, if you are interested in exploring new resources and ways of gathering information to plan your forestry activities, I would encourage you to take a look at these sites.
To learn more about Texas’s forestry BMPs, please visit the Texas Forest Service website at http://txforestservice.tamu.edu/water or contact the Texas Forest Service water resources office in Lufkin (936) 639-8180 or Longview (903) 297-3910. If you have any questions about BMPs please contact Chuck Coup at the TFS office in Lufkin.
* This article was published in the March 2011 issue of the Texas Logger