Restoration Map: A Tool for Conservation Volunteers

The mission of The National Audubon Society is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. The Audubon Chicago Region saves wildlife and habitat, and to keep it safe permanently we are hard at work creating a local culture of conservation. Though a small staff is ready to step in where necessary, most of Audubon’s work is done by hundreds of volunteers including citizen scientists, land stewards, advocates, and more. Everyone is invited to help out. Karen Glennemeier, Science Director with Audubon Chicago Region, shares information about a great mapping tool that volunteers are using to track their restoration efforts. 

Photo by Jim Schultz

By Karen Glennemeier

Audubon has developed a new mapping tool that allows land managers, stewards, and monitors to communicate their work and their findings to each other, easily and freely. Developed by Will Freyman and hosted by Audubon’s Habitat Project, the tool is called Restoration Map. It’s based on the Google Earth plug-in and allows stewards and managers to map the locations of management actions year after year. It also allows monitors to map the locations of their monitoring and the species they’ve found. And, when you overlay the two together, things really start to get fun!

For years, local conservationists have struggled to find the best means of recording and communicating their work in a way that allows the community to make the best use of it. With more and more partnerships working to do effective conservation, this kind of communication is becoming ever more important, and more difficult. Maps are an obvious means to do so, but until recently it’s been difficult to share and update maps in a practical, useful way.

Enter Will Freyman, a tech-savvy restoration volunteer who approached steward Stephen Packard last year, asking how he could put his skills to work for conservation. The two of them worked closely for months, developing ideas, trying prototypes, working out bugs. They shared the test site with stewards, monitors, and scientists, asking us to use the site and tell them what was working and what additional tools would be helpful. The result is an open-source program that provides unprecedented opportunities for collaboration among conservation practitioners.

We early testers soon learned what a jewel we had in our virtual hands — it was great! After mapping the locations of vegetation transects, bird monitoring points, and frog listening points, Will uploaded the datasets, which allowed us to click on a point to see the frogs, birds and number of plants at each spot. Then we mapped the locations of last year’s burns, seed spreading, and weed control. When we overlayed these maps, we could start asking – and answering – questions about how birds were responding to burning, which seeds from our seed mixes were coming up first, how our weed control was working, and how frogs were affected by all of the activities.

Below are screenshots of a site showing the different types of data that can be mapped. To view Restoration Map, go to www.habitatproject.org/restorationmap. Please note that you have to download and install the free Google Earth plug-in on your computer. For additional information and to find out how to enter your own information, contact Will Freyman at willfreyman@gmail.com or visit http://restorationmap.org for more details and instructions on how to use the map.

Deer Grove East Forest Preserve.

Circles are the centers of 25-m diameter woodland vegetation plots. Lines are 100-m long vegetation transects. These were monitored in 2012.

These polygons show areas that were burned in 2011. We can learn how the plants – and the birds and frogs (see below) -- are responding to burning over time.

Polygons are the locations where local seed was spread in 2012. We can look at vegetation data from nearby plots to see how long it takes our seeds to take root.

Circles are the centers of 25-m diameter woodland vegetation plots. Lines are 100-m long vegetation transects. These were monitored in 2012.

The larger, yellow dots (extending east on the map) show bird monitoring locations. The six smaller, green dots toward the northwest are frog monitoring locations, where we can view detailed results with a click of the mouse.

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