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You don't need a map to explore GTAC, but you'll find a map around every corner! Images of a map and 3D remote sensing image.

Geospatial Technology Supporting Forest Management

You don't need a map to explore GTAC -- but you'll find one around every corner! At the Geospatial Technology and Applications Center (GTAC), we advance the Forest Service mission through the application of new geospatial science, technology, and methods to meet business requirements. On the Explore GTAC page, you can learn more about the work we do at GTAC by reading stories about what we do.

Forest Service and NASA Upgrade Online Active Fire Mapping Tool

Real-Time Satellite Data and Thermal Imagery for Wildfire Suppression and the Public 

The USDA Forest Service is releasing a new online active fire mapping tool, developed in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to better support fire suppression efforts in North America. The new Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) US/Canada application will provide access to low latency satellite imagery and other science data to identify the location, extent and intensity of wildfire activity and its effects.

Using NASA data, Forest Service’s Geospatial Technology and Applications Center (GTAC) modernized the application to provide wildfire managers and suppression personnel and the public real-time access to data, maps, and visualization products of active wildfires across all land ownerships. Examples of visualization products tailored to meet the strategic information and modelling needs of wildfire response analysts include 2-D and 3-D time-lapses of smoke, predictions of smoke/fire movement, fire temperature over time, and more.

“We appreciate our colleagues and partners at NASA, and we are excited to complete this latest effort together to ensure availability of state-of-the-art active wildfire mapping,” said Deb Oakeson, Director at GTAC.

According to Oakeson, wildland fire response is an interagency effort. Among other roles, the Forest Service coordinates the fire remote sensing services for mapping large incidents. Since the earliest active fire mapping version in 2001, the USDA Forest Service application has been enabled by satellite imagery and technologies provided by NASA.

“NASA values its on-going partnership with the Forest Service that is improving our ability to use near real-time satellite data to respond to wildfires. This joint effort to modernize GTAC’s Active Fire Mapping applications by leveraging NASA’s FIRMS both enhances our global FIRMS application framework and focuses it on the needs of US and Canadian operational fire management activities,” said Robert Wolfe, Chief of the Terrestrial Information Systems Laboratory at NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center.

Brad Quayle is a remote sensing and GIS specialist who leads the active fire mapping application team at GTAC. With the FIRMS-US/Canada app now live, Quayle says the legacy application will continue to be available for about a year.

“The period of overlap will provide a gradual sunset for the legacy platform. Wildfire agencies, decision support applications, and the public are ensured continual access to the legacy platform as they transition to the upgraded tool,” he said. Meanwhile, the partners will implement additional enhancements to the new application.

The history of federal forest management dates to 1876 when Congress recognized the need for oversight of the quality and conditions of forests throughout the country. This foresight has evolved into today’s Forest Service, with a mission firmly rooted in sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

The Geospatial Technology and Applications Center (GTAC) applies new geospatial science, technology, and methods to the Forest Service’s daily work to help the agency achieve its mission using the best science available. Learn more about GTAC’s mission, projects, career opportunities, and publicly available geospatial applications by visiting the center’s USDA Forest Service website at https://fs.usda.gov/about-agency/gtac.



FIRMS US/Canada is an online application that serves wildfire suppression personnel and the public.

GTAC Employee Association Supports Bike Program

In addition to being geospatial leaders in the agency, GTAC employees are good neighbors in their communities! Check out this story that highlights our community spirit in support of an innovative youth project that combines STEM learning with outdoor recreation!

In December 2020, USDA Forest Service’s Geospatial Technology and Applications Center (GTAC) Employee Association recently donated to a new bike library and bike shop class at Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) Bryant Middle School.

“So far, we have contributed 9 bicycles, 8 helmets, tools, and over seven hundred dollars to the school,” said Stacie Bender, a GTAC geospatial specialist who helped organize the employee organization’s contribution. Contributors included Forest Service and contractor staff at GTAC, USDA Farm Production and Conservation Business Center employees, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees.

Located near the GTAC office in downtown Salt Lake City, UT, the SLCSE Bryant bike program is led by seventh grade science and bike shop class teacher, Mr. Lucas Matelich. “Our primary learning objective is to engage students in hands-on, playful learning while implementing engineering and design processes to problem solve, tinker, collaborate, and fix bikes,” he said.

Students will learn bicycle repair and maintenance as well as bicycle etiquette, safety, and common practices for daily bike transportation. Twice a week, the SLCSE Bryant bike community will take afternoon group rides known by students as “Urban Cruising”.

“Students will be exposed to the beauty and sustainability of bicycles as portals to freedom and play. Bikes facilitate exploration, adventure, curiosity, and whole health – all critically importance to the SLCSE Bryant philosophy,” Mr. Matelich said.

Due to Covid-19, the class has not been held, giving Matelich time to gather needed equipment. Once open, the free bicycle library will allow SLCSE Bryant students to borrow a bicycle for the year. Students will have access to all the tools and education necessary to maintain the functionality of their bike, returning it at the end of the school year for use by students the following academic term.

“At this point we are preparing the bike fleet and shop so that we can hit the ground running whenever we return to in-person learning,” Mr. Matelich said.

He noted that SLCSE Bryant sees bicycles as an amazing avenue to bring wellness to its students and the community. "Bikes can be used for utility as well as fun, and they can bring people together in a healthy, safe, and sustainable manner. Come ride with us – all are welcome,” Mr. Matelich said.

“As technology professionals in a natural resources agency, we’re excited to support a project that gets kids involved in science, technology, engineering and math while also encouraging them to engage in outdoor recreation,” said Tyler Jones, a Geospatial Specialist at GTAC.

Additional donations are needed to expand the bike shop; contact Mr. Lucas Matelich (Lucas.Matelich@slcschools.org) for information. Learn more about GTAC’s mission, projects, career opportunities, and publicly available geospatial applications by visiting the center’s USDA Forest Service website at https://fs.usda.gov/about-agency/gtac.


This story also appears in the Inside the Forest Service newsletter. 2021/01/19


SLCSE Bryant Middle School teacher and bike shop program leader, Mr. Lucas Matelich, poses with equipment he’s gathering for the bike shop program.

New StoryMap Explains Lidar Applications

Lidar remote sensing technology has many useful applications that benefit National Forest management. These data and resources are also freely available to academia, state and local governments, nonprofit entities and the public, solidifying the Forest Service as a partner in forest management across the landscape.

The Forest Service has a long record of land management success working in complex and changing environments. Our vast collection of geospatial information and data, and our capacity to embrace new technologies and techniques contribute to that success. Lidar data serves the Forest Service's mission by providing the best available data about our forests on a landscape scale. We use lidar data to directly sample forests to measure vegetation height, canopy cover, and canopy gaps, as well as to create digital elevation models that we use to quickly correct road alignments, map archaeological sites, and model hydrography. Together with field sampling and modeling, we can use lidar to estimate forest structure metrics like basal area, volume, and biomass. As these landscapes change, our data services provide timely analyses of scientifically sound information that lead to better informed management decisions in our collective effort to care for all lands and deliver sustainable benefits to people. Perhaps most importantly, lidar data collected by the Forest Service become part of the public domain and are freely available to academia, federal, state, nonprofit entities, and the public, solidifying the Forest Service as an essential partner in forest management. 

Launch this new StoryMap to see what Lidar looks like and how it is used.   



Side-by-side comparison of Aerial Photography, Canopy Height Model and Percent Canopy Cover for the same parcel of NFS land.

Forest Service Geospatial Center Cutting Edge Geospatial Applications

Three contract staff from the USDA Forest Service’s Geospatial Technology and Applications Center (GTAC) provided presentations on Google Earth Engine’s “Geo for Good 2020” Public Sector online plenary session. The plenary event featured twenty-five 5-minute “lightning talks” by twenty-five different geospatial innovators from around the world. GTAC’s Leah Campbell, Joshua Heyer, and Claire Simpson each gave a 5-minute presentation about how the Forest Service is using public data in Google Earth platform to benefit public lands. Together, their presentations also clearly demonstrate how the work of Forest Service geospatial experts contributes to cutting edge developments in geospatial technology.  

Joshua Heyer is a geospatial analyst on GTAC’s Resource Applications and Technology Implementation team. Heyer’s presentation summarized a workflow developed to reduce big data for remotely sensed imagery. The innovative workflow allows land managers to more easily use large volumes of image data to benefit land management decisions. For instance, the National Land Cover Database, including the USDA Forest Service’s Tree Canopy Cover model, provides land managers and the public with data essential to land management planning.

Leah Campbell, PhD, is a statistical analyst and programmer who works with GTAC’s Resource Mapping, Inventory and Monitoring program. Campbell provided an overview of innovations using the Landscape Change Monitoring System (LCMS) to monitor recovery in areas affected by wildfire. The tool helps Forest Service land managers monitor, understand and plan for land recovery after catastrophic events like wildfire, such as with the Bridger-Teton Recovery Viewer app.

Claire Simpson is a Remote Sensing Specialist on GTAC’s Resource Mapping, Inventory and Monitoring team. Simpson’s lightning talk addressed a creative method to parse satellite imagery data (Landsat timeseries) to unveil pre-disturbance landscapes. This ingenious method produces maps of stable, pre-disturbance landscapes that help Forest Service land managers identify baseline conditions, which is useful when planning land restoration.

All three presenters are employed by Redcastle Resources, an onsite contractor to the USDA Forest Service’s GTAC in Salt Lake City, UT, where they support the Forest Service mission to care for National Forest System lands for the public benefit. With a workforce of both Forest Service and contract staff, GTAC provides leadership in geospatial science implementation in the USDA Forest Service by:

  • exploring and developing emerging technologies;
  • working with partners to demonstrate their application in land and resource management;
  • providing solutions to inform decision making; and
  • building capacity to support new ways of "Caring for the Land and Serving People.

Learn more about GTAC’s mission, projects, career opportunities, and publicly available geospatial applications by visiting the center’s USDA Forest Service website at https://fs.usda.gov/about-agency/gtac.



Heyer, Campbell and Simpson, with their Geo for Good 2020 presentations

GTAC Contributes to Extensive Soil Mapping Update

Having an updated database of soils present on the Payette National Forest is more important than one might think. Due to this importance, soil scientists from the Payette National Forest and Region 4 have partnered with Natural Resource Conservation Service Soil Scientists and mapping experts at the Forest Service's Geospatial Technology and Applications Center to create an updated map of the distribution of soil types on the Forest. This extensive project will update the Payette National Forest Land System Inventory (LSI) for the first time in years. Learn more in this Payette National Forest Facebook page post.

Soil survey equipment rests on the ground beside loose soil.

International Recognition: 2020 Special Achievement in GIS

In 2020, GTAC received a Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) award for the wide range of geospatial support we provide across the US Forest Service. Each year, the international SAG Awards acknowledge innovative and intelligent applications of GIS technology aimed at addressing the needs of organizations and communities. 

This map is an example of the GTAC products that supported Forest Service International Programs in Malawi.

LCMS Data Viewer is Online

In 2020, the USDA Forest Service released an updated version of its Landscape Change Monitoring System (LCMS), a publicly available online tool that utilizes satellite data to generate annual maps showing vegetation change, land cover, and land use over time. The new release, developed cooperatively by the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) and the Geospatial Technology and Applications Center (GTAC), adds the 2019 data layer to the previously available layers going back to 1985. Check it out here: https://apps.fs.usda.gov/lcms-viewer/


Excellence in Cartography Award

At GTAC we contribute to award-winning work throughout the agency. In 2020, we contributed data to this Prince of Wales Island (Tongass National Forest) map made by cartographers in the Forest Service's Region 10 office. The map won the ICA and IMIA Recognition of Excellence in Cartography Award. A big part of our work is gathering, managing and analyzing geospatial data for use in projects such as these.

Map of Prince of Wales Island on the Tongass National Forest

Apply Knowledge Globally: Habitat Monitoring and Management in Malawi

In August 2019, a USDA Forest Service team spent the last two weeks of July in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, working to advance a long-term, reserve-wide wildlife and habitat monitoring program. This monitoring program, which was co-designed by the USDA Forest Service and African Parks with support from the Malawi office of the US Agency for International Development, is specially tailored to this rugged, densely vegetated landscape. GTAC mapping supported the project. Learn more here

Conferring over maps from the USDA Forest Service Geospatial Technology & Applications Center, Ray Davis gameplans with colleagues from African Parks before the team heads into the field to continue installing wildlife and habitat monitoring plots in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. Forest Service photo.

Webinar: Moving Forward with Crowdsourced Data

Interested in citizen science?! In February 2018, two GTAC remote sensing staff provided this webinar about crowdsourced data. Crowdsourcing is an open call for volunteers to provide information or help solve a problem. Recognizing the value of crowdsourcing, the Forest Service conducted an assessment of crowdsourced Geospatial Data in the Forest Service. This webinar describes the information gathered. It also includes a discussion and valuable links.

Video Presentation: Link to Webinar. 

Find more Resources and Webinars on the Forest Service Citizen Science Resources page

Image of flyer for Crowdsourcing Webinar includes sign saying "Help us study fire recovery", other images including a handheld device, and text about the webinar.

How is GTAC's Remote Sensing Applied on Forests?

Ever wonder how our remote sensing services are applied on the National Forests? Well here is one example! The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest incorporated remote sensing into its Forest Plan Monitoring Implementation Guide. When monitoring how management activities are affecting late successional forest structure in relation to desired conditions, foresters can document acres of late-successional structure lost or converted by uncharacteristically hot wildfires by using RAVG (Rapid Assessment of Vegetation Conditions after Wildfire) burn severity maps from GTAC. The RAVG app is available here.

Screenshot of the RAVG app home page. Blended images of wildfire and specialists working in the forest.

Apply Knowledge Globally: Training remote sensing technicians in the Congo

In 2017, two employees from GTAC spent two weeks in the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide training on remote sensing techniques for measuring forest cover change. In so doing, GTAC's trainers helped build in-house capacity for both the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Republic of Congo to monitor forest resources. Learn more here.

GTAC trainer Karis Tenneson assists Democratic Republic of Congo Ministry of Environment remote sensing technicians in completing exercises during training on detecting forest cover change.

Apply Knowledge Globally: Maintaining Gross National Happiness

In late 2017, seven forest researchers from Bhutan worked with staff at the Forest Service Geospatial Technology and Applications Center to share techniques and knowledge for developing maps of forest change. Learn more here.

Seated at a laptop, several Bhutanese foresters map forest change.

Kenai Vegetation Mapping Project

For the Kenai Vegetation Mapping Project, GTAC was tasked with developing a map of vegetation dominance types with associated structure classes. The work involved assembling geospatial data (imagery and topographic information), collecting reference data, and developing statistical models to map vegetation types, canopy cover, and tree size. Maps showing existing vegetation were produced to identify and describe the spatial distributions of dominance types and structural classes for over 5.7 million acres (including federal, state, native, and private land in-holding) across the Kenai Peninsula in south central Alaska. Learn more here and here.

Map representing vegetation types of Kenai Peninsula.