“Beyond This Place, There Be Dragons”

The author of this article, Paul Nace, is Technical Services Manager at Forest Resource Consultants. He has more than 30 years of forestland GIS data management experience on millions of acres of timberland across the United States.

Beyond this place, there be dragons.” This phrase, once used by ancient cartographers to signify the unknown and perilous beyond the known world, now finds new relevance – “Beyond today, there be dragons.” The modern cartographers at FRC are confronting these dragons, born from the internet and the rapid evolution of technology. With a blank canvas, we bear the responsibility to confront these challenges and chart a course through unexplored territories.

My forestry journey began in 1994 where I oversaw Potlatch Corporations’ 500,000-acre Geographic Information System (GIS). Back then, our industry was transitioning from paper to computerized mapping. Potlatch embraced GIS early, acquiring one of the first licenses issued for Esri‘s ARC/INFO software. I witnessed the growth firsthand – from a small user conference of 16 attendees to today’s massive annual Esri conference that includes tens of thousands of attendees.

In 1994, GIS operations relied on UNIX workstations, cumbersome CRT monitors, rooms filled with digitizing tables, and pen plotters where onlookers marveled at the precise, albeit temperamental, cartographic artistry. We stored data in Esri’s proprietary formats, transferring information via E00 files saved on tape, floppy, or the then-new CD ROM medium.

The late 1990s brought along ArcMap. This software transformed GIS by integrating heads-up digitizing on Windows machines, reduced update times and initiation of rapid map series production. With the advent of color printing that enhanced map detail, pen plotters gave way to inkjet and laser printers. Soon thereafter in the early 2000s, email simplified map distribution to the various users.

The 2010s heralded online data repositories and georeferenced imagery that elevated map production efficiency. Today, drones and LiDAR have begun to revolutionize forest mapping, while online Forest Management Systems (FMS) are streamlining the interface and updating between GIS and land management applications.

Despite decades of progress, challenges persist. Future advancements promise LiDAR-driven inventories, real-time dashboards, and mobile GIS accessibility. These advents will propel our mapping access to new heights. As technology wizards, we will continue to confront these dragons, transforming blank spaces into detailed masterpieces that will be the maps of tomorrow.



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