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GIS Comes to the Aid of Bird Watchers

GIS Finds New Niche
Conservationists, bird watchers, farmers, and developers across the state of California can now access bird habitat information from a digital bank of maps and data created with geographic information system (GIS) technology.  Commissioned by the National Audubon Society and BirdLife International, the Important Bird Areas (IBA) program designates locations essential for breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds.  Conservation activities at these sites include land acquisition, habitat restoration, advocacy on behalf of IBA, and education to local communities about their unique birds and bird habitats.
Through a partnership between Audubon California and California Polytechnic State University, the maps and database supporting the California IBA project were created by David Yun, GIS supervisor for the City of San Luis Obispo, and a group of students from Cal Poly's Natural Resources Management Department.  The team used ArcGIS software, which allows users to organize, visualize, and analyze layers of disparate geographic data with maps and geodatabases.
With GIS, the IBA maps brought together topographic maps from the U.S. Geological Survey; wildlife habitat relationship data from the California Department of Fish and Game; digital photographs from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP); and shapefiles of protected and conservation lands, counties, roads, and waterways from the California Spatial Information Library.
ArcCatalog / ArcMap
•ArcGIS Desktop provided the most complete set of tools required to complete our mapping project,• said Andrea Jones, director of the Important Bird Areas program for Audubon California.  •Two critical ArcGIS Desktop applications were ArcCatalog and ArcMap.  We used ArcCatalog to manage all GIS layers, and ArcMap to digitize boundaries, analyze data, and create maps and graphics.•
More than 10,000 IBA sites in nearly 200 countries and territories have been identified since the IBA program's inception in the 1980s.  Bird-Life International estimates that hundreds of sites and millions of acres have received better protection as a result of the IBA program.  A major objective of the IBA program is the protection of vulnerable birds.  Of particular concern are species that are not widely distributed or are concentrated in one general habitat type or biome; and individual or groups of species, such as waterfowl or shorebirds, that congregate at high densities due to their gregarious behavior. For more information, visit the Audubon California website at

By Neil Whitehall
Get GIS Jobs, Contributing Editor

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