Not-for-Profits Gone Spatial

Leveraging web-based technology to reach wider audiences, combined with fewer tax-payer funded GIS initiatives, and improved “open government” data portals has led to a growing body of geospatial work by the Not-for-Profit (NFP) sector within New York State.  Ranging from basic community based mapping programs to scholarly research efforts, these statewide contributions come from national based organizations, land trusts, conservation districts, and a range of local environmental groups.

Several active programs, which are typical of statewide NFP GIS efforts, are located in the lower Hudson River Valley.  The Westchester Land Trust is similar to other statewide land trusts using GIS technology to support business and advocacy programs.  Working closely with the Westchester County GIS program WLT utilizes GIS to inventory and map individual properties, supports local environmental groups GIS/mapping efforts, and to promote events such GIS Day.

The Saw Mill River Coalition also uses GIS datasets in conducting land use studies and mapping projects.  Many local governments have open space committees which use GIS to inventory open spaces (local, county, state parks, cemeteries, schools, gardens, etc.) and are now using GIS tools to identify linkages and corridors such as right-of-ways and easements to connect open spaces.   Digital tax maps, public infrastructure, and utility system networks are useful sources of information in identifying such corridors.

Nearby is Hudsonia, a not-for-profit environmental institute which focuses on environmental research, education, training and technical assistance throughout the Hudson River Valley.  GIS-based habitat mapping is one of its signature geospatial programs and is used by local municipalities.   The New York/New Jersey Trail Conference provides workshops and uses GPS and GIS, a portion of which is based on user collected X,Y (trail) data for hardcopy map production on hiking trails throughout southeastern New York/Northern New Jersey.

More detailed GIS analysis by a NFP includes ongoing work at Mohonk Preserve outside of New Paltz, New York where managers and scientists are using GIS to map the relationship between rare species and their habitat as well as describing the importance and changes in ecological communities.   Much of the geospatial work at Mohonk was detailed in the Winter 2011/2012 issue of ArcNews.  GIS support services are also provided and offered through the Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County (CCEDC).

One of the largest NFP GIS mapping programs in the state is the OASIS  (Open Accessible Space Information System) program covering the metropolitan New York City area and located at the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research.  Its mission is to “help nonprofits, community groups, educators, students, public agencies, and local businesses develop a better understanding of their environment with interactive maps of open spaces, property information, transportation networks, and more.”   The OASIS project has gone beyond its original New York City geographic footprint and is now involved in similar mapping efforts beyond the metropolitan region.  Their homepage has an extensive listing of other NFP programs, which contribute, to the OASIS initiative in context of providing data and/or funding.

On a statewide level, illustrative NFP GIS programs include:

Scenic Hudson:  Developed in concert with both government and academia, Scenic Hudson developed the online Sea Level Rise Mapper (SLR) application which is intended to “create visualizations of future scenarios of sea level rise.”   With the maps created as part of the application, Scenic Hudson is supporting communities’ efforts to develop adaptation plan.  Data and mapping products integrated into the application are a combination of results from new analyses by Scenic Hudson and existing data from a variety of sources including NYS DEC, US EPA, US Census Bureau, Dr. Roger Flood (SUNY Stony Brook) and FEMA.

FracTracker: This non-profit organization is dedicated to enhancing the public’s understanding of the impacts of the oil and gas industry by collecting, interpreting, and sharing data. With the Marcellus and Utica Shales at the focus of this environmental issue, FracTracker employs in-house GIS technology capacity to distribute maps (PDF format) and data, as well as using for interactive mapping. “Maps are central to our grassroots outreach effort, helping us communicate the relevant environmental issues associated with important statewide issue” says Karen Edelstein, New York State FracTracker liaison.

The Nature Conservancy:   In conjunction with the New York Natural Heritage Program and funded though the Hudson River Estuary Program,   TNC conducted a project that combined a GIS prioritization framework with field assessment methods to identify and prioritize culverts and dams that are of biological importance in the Hudson River Estuary (HRE).  The goal of this project was to identify a suite of barriers whose removal would provide a meaningful biological benefit in the HRE.   In all, over 13,000 potential barriers were identified in the study.

The NFPs referenced in this post represent only a small portion of similar statewide organizations that contribute significantly to a wide range of applications, data, personnel, funding, and underlying geospatial infrastructure across the state.  As a side note, the recent release of the New York Protected Areas Database (NYPAD) illustrates yet another scenario as to how government agencies can partner with and use the NFP structure, and in this case academia, to further strategic GIS programs.  Similar initiatives are funded through the New York Natural Heritage Programs (NYNHP).  Given today’s government financial climate, such an initiative would be very difficult to complete and maintain solely with public agency resources.

While historically the primary role of NFPs in the geospatial arena has been as a consumer of taxpayer funded GIS data, their role is quietly changing to that of a producer.   Long term, improvements in quantifying their economic and scientific contribution to the statewide geospatial effort warrants continued recognition and discussion.

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