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Archive for November, 2017

Possible Changes to NAIP Imagery Licensing Model

November 27, 2017 Leave a comment

As this blog and our book make clear, the world of geospatial data is in a continual state of change.  Much of this change has been toward more data in the public domain, but sometimes, the change may move in the opposite direction. The National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) has been a source for aerial imagery in the USA since 2003 and has been in the public domain, available here.  But recently, the Farm Services Agency (FSA) has proposed to move the data model from the public domain to a licensing model.  The collection of this imagery has been under an innovative model wherein state governments and the federal government share the costs.

One reason for the proposed change is that the states have been $3.1 million short over the past several years, and FSA cannot continue “picking up the tab.”  Furthermore, delays in releasing funding from cost-share partners forces contract awards past “peak agriculture growth” season, which thwarts one key reason why the imagery is collected in the first place–to assess agricultural health and practices.  We have discussed this aspect of geospatial data frequently in this blog–that geospatial data comes at a cost.  Someone has to pay, and sometimes, those payment models need to be re-considered with changing funding and priorities.  In this case, agencies and data analysts that rely on NAIP imagery would suffer adverse consequences, but with the expansion of the types and means by which imagery can be acquired nowadays, perhaps these developments will enable those other sources to be explored more fully.  And, possibly, the model could be adjusted so that the data could be paid for and that all could benefit from it.

For more information, see the report by our colleagues at GIS Lounge, and the presentation housed on the FGDC site, here.

Two samples of NAIP imagery, for Texas, left, and North Dakota, right.

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Potential Harm to Rare Species from Location-Tagged Data

November 20, 2017 1 comment

In a new study from Yale University entitled “Unnatural Surveillance: How Online Data Is Putting Species at Risk,”  author Adam Welz sounds an alarm about harm that can come from the fact that location information is increasingly tied to data.  In the case of rare and endangered plants and animals, Welz points out that “poachers can use computers and smartphones to pinpoint the locations of rare and endangered species and then go nab them.”   The case highlighted in the article is one of a couple who had been illegally gathering rare African succulent plants after doing research on the location of the plants, and then illegally selling the plants through their own website.  In the past it may have taken perhaps an entire botanical career to gather information on this level of specificity, but “in 2015, a pair of poachers could acquire it in a short time from a desk on another continent.”  Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, and Welz should know:  He has long focused on writing about and has extensive experience in international and African wildlife issues.

The author thoughtfully raises other ways, trends, and technologies that expose the location of protected species to those with other motives, such as the increased publishing of scientific research in open access journals, VHF radio signals from animal collars, the rise of citizen science, and even geotagged social media posts from tourists who photograph wildlife.  Welz recognizes the positive impact that the growth of data has had on research and on conservation in particular, but raises awareness of the real danger that location-tagged data can pose to the very things that many seek to study and protect.  As a member of the academic community, I have been working with open access journals for years, and I had not considered the potential misuse of this new publication avenue.

As a long-time member of another community–that of caving, I have for decades been sensitive to the related issue of publishing of cave locations, and the resulting harm that can and has  come from those entering caves without a permit and/or those who would seek to vandalize a cave.  I would love to see a researcher conduct further research on the geospatial implications of the points that Welz raises.   Lacking that, Welz’ article still provides an affirmation of one of our themes of this blog and our book:  What is important is what people do with the data.  Data can be used for good and for ill.  It is my hope that articles such as this raise awareness so that data and tool providers build safeguards that make it difficult for people who seek to use data for ill to access that data, while still moving toward the goals of open data access for enabling smart decisions.

canada_forest

A review of an article wherein Adam Welz sounds an alarm about harm that can come from the fact that location information is increasingly tied to data.

The ArcGIS Solutions Templates as a Data Source

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment

“ArcGIS solution templates” located here  are ready-to-use maps and apps targeted for specific industries.  They are grouped into categories according to GIS industry sectors–local government, state government, emergency management, water, electric, gas, defense, telecommunication, and parks and gardens.  These solution templates cover a wide variety of themes and scales.  Under each categories are subcategories, such as land records and water utilities under local government, and transportation and fish and wildlife under state government, and so on.  Another convenient way to browse for the solutions of interest to you is to visit the gallery.  The gallery allows for searching on keywords, industries, products, and implementation patterns (such as field mobility and operational awareness).

Why include these solution templates in our blog as a data source?  Particularly for professors of GIS in universities, and those who conduct GIS training for a wide variety of persons, these templates include sample data.  For example, the electric facility templates include a sample geodatabase with an electric utility network, and a map document used to publish the service territory service.  The Tree Assessor template includes a living plant collection dataset, a map document with defined cartography, a toolbox containing analysis tools, and detailed documentation with details of the map properties.

Admittedly, the primary purpose of these templates is not data, per se, but to help avoid the age-old problem in GIS of requiring each organization to create everything they need from scratch.  The solutions templates provide a practical framework, including maps, graphics, workflows, apps, and much more–for an organization to get started, or if they’ve already started with GIS, to follow some best practices.  But the fact that the templates include data and tools make them an excellent source of data particularly for the GIS instructor.  And, many of the data sets, such as water, parcels, and utilities, are those that typically are difficult to obtain, chiefly because they are not distributed by most data portals.  The solutions templates can also, of course, be used with other data sets that can be found via this blog or via other sources.

solutions

A section of the Esri Solutions Gallery.

Categories: Public Domain Data