The Cubicle Chronicles: Pt 1

I never pictured myself spending so much time sending emails, working with spatial data, troubleshooting network/general computer issues and designing vegetation monitoring recommendations this early in my career, but hey, I’ll take it!

It’s been a busy winter since arriving back to Anchorage from the National Native Seed Conference in Washington DC. I was tasked with a smorgasbord of jobs to complete and have spent about 95% of my time staring intensely at a computer monitor.

During this period, I have completed the following tasks:

  • Developed a workflow for determining ideal sampling size of line-point intercept (LPI) plots in mine reclamation sites based on previous year’s data.
  • Generated and digitized polygon features from invasive plant survey data in the form of GPS coordinates taken in the White Mountains and Nulato Hills near Fairbanks, AK in 2016. The fate of this data resided in the National Invasive Species Information Management System (NISIMS) and the Alaska Exotic Plant Information Clearinghouse (AKEPIC)

I obtained a wealth of information and invaluable help from the AIM Monitoring Manual for Grassland, Shrubland and Savanna Ecosystems, The Landscape Toolbox and a few generous folks at the BLM National Operations Center (NOC). Without these reference tools this would have taken me all winter! The Landscape Toolbox website is a monster system of tools and resources that can save land managers an awesome amount of money. Solid job to those involved in it’s development! *fist pump*.

For the NISIMS project, feature layers were to be imported into the AK state spatial database engine (sde) and ultimately the national sde. NISIMS is quite the system, and anyone who has experience working with the database network knows it’s complexity. Due to this, some training is necessary to fully comprehend and successfully execute the steps from mobile device to, ultimately, the national sde. Luckily there exists a plethora of online help documents and training videos located on the NISIMS sharepoint site, and a strong support staff available both at the NOC and within the state offices.  I’ll spare the details, but it took me a minute to finally obtain the proper flat file geodatabase and align my spatial data with the attribute table seen in Photo 3.

With every day logged into ArcMap, I become savvier with the software, and tasks that once took me several days now take me an afternoon. What a learning experience this has been, and I am starting to feel truly competent in with ArcMap geoprocessing tools, NISIMS data processing and navigation/permissions within government networks.

Photo 1. Point feature to polygon conversion. Top left – right: full extent of point feature data from surveys conducted in the White Mountains, zoomed extent of several days worth of surveys, line features grouped together logically by day and space (output generated from points to line tool). Bottom left-right: 150 ft wide buffers generated from line features, original point feature layer with points buffered 1 acre on top of buffered line features, final polygons generated by dissolving group fields… and voilà! A unique polygon feature for every survey!

Photo 2. Edit feature tool used for digitization of larger area surveyed near camp.

Photo 3. Attribute table with NISIMS required fields. This feature layer was pulled from a flat file geodatabase, and each field contains regularly updated domain attribute values.

Aside from the above projects, I have also been working on QA and QC of Forest Vegetation Inventory System (FORVIS). The FORVIS surveys generally consist of two parts; first, a walkthrough where forest characteristics, including understory vegetation and fuel loading, are described, and second, a plot survey where specific information is collected on individual trees (species, age, height, DBH, etc.). The ultimate fate of the plots is in theory the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS), a model developed for stand examinations. Certain inventory design information, stand-level variables and tree data information are required for the model to run correctly. Many of these fields are missing in the existing data, but can be easily determined to ensure the information we have meets the FVS requirements. Since Alaska has yet to introduce an FVS, this data will help facilitate the generation of a model for the state.

It’s been a good winter with the BLM, without doubt being both productive and educational. Whenever possible, I have taken advantage of my weekends in the snowy Chugach and Kenai Mountains. The theme of my weekend warrior missions has been backcountry skiing, or splitboarding in my case. It’s an intoxicating effort, and I foresee it being a part of my life for years to come.

Traversing a ridgeline in the Kenai Mountains in search of the coveted fresh line.

Of my beloved experiences in the silent winter mountains is hearing a faint thumping sound, and soon realizing it’s the sound of my heart beating.

The long days are returning, and it’s starting to feel like spring is in the near future. Before I know it we will once again be experiencing the long, fruitful summer days of the Alaskan summer.

Here’s to the changing seasons, and the rise of photosynthetic activity which keeps us all employed!



1 thought on “The Cubicle Chronicles: Pt 1

  1. Just read through your impressive GIS tasks. I’m currently working on downloading ArcPad and S1 installer on mobile device + NISIMS data and NISIMS is a beast. I remember reading your blog before I started my internship in Fairbanks to get an idea of what other CLM interns in AK were doing and I was so lost. After a few days of reading all of the NISIMS guides and watching the tutorials, I’m finally starting to make sense of it.

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