Many Layers To This GIS Onion (I Like Puns)

For many everyday users of ArcMap, layers are brought into a map, labels added and edited, a few colors that mesh well together selected, drop in a legend and scale, and place a compass somewhere that’s out of the way but not too out of the way. With the guiding hand and patience of our GIS Specialist, Courtney, I’ve been improving on my Editor skills and learning to code in Python (right click on feature class, click on Python snippet, add to Python, understand magic). Most of my job up to this point has been editing, merging, and appending datasets from consultants into our office wildlife database, a necessary tool for our wildlife biologists as they write NEPA documents for projects.

However, this has begun to change the last couple of weeks. Courtney has encouraged me to dip my toe into Python and learn coding with the hopes that I can put together several scripts to automate some database processes. While this doesn’t sound that exciting to some, running some lines of code to replace an hour of step-by-step instructions sounds like a gift from above when you’re doing the same process for the second time that day. However, Python has made me incredibly frustrated at times while trying to debug a syntax error that I swear I fixed before. At least, until I solved it and the tears of joy puddle on my keyboard (do I bill the CBG for that?). Now, Courtney and several staffers have dangled something in front of me that I can’t say no to: a challenge.

The field office is heavily invested in maintaining and improving habitat for sage grouse within the office boundaries and to that end I’ve been asked to help on a couple projects. While there is no need to tell you about each project, the challenge that was laid at my feet involves looking at fire disturbances, sagebrush habitat quality, existing road networks, and cheatgrass to help determine planning habitat and range improvements for the next couple of years. This intrigues me so greatly because of the wealth of information that will have to be compiled, sorted through, interpreted, and visually represented is a wonderful scholarship opportunity. And to know that I was part of a project that helped steer sage grouse towards recovery….well, someone’s cutting onions again.

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