Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Kaibab NF leads partner effort to bring geographic data to AZ

ARIZONA—Employees with Kaibab National Forest led an effort to unify a diverse group of partners for the first-ever Arizona LiDAR symposium, held Aug. 15 in Flagstaff. Organizers brought together government agencies, nonprofits, universities and other organizations to begin to collaboratively fund the collection of this critical geographic data and guide its ultimate use in projects and partnerships statewide.

LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method used to examine the surface of the Earth. LiDAR generates precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the planet and its surface characteristics.

More than 60 attendees participated in the August LiDAR symposium, representing federal, state and local government agencies; nonprofits; universities; research organizations; and private corporations. A cadre of LiDAR experts provided information on everything from the basics of what LiDAR is and its many applications to more complex topics such as specific industry uses and best practices in LiDAR acquisition. The symposium, which was held at Northern Arizona University, also gave participants the opportunity to network with other industries and organizations and strategize about future partnerships.

LiDAR provides highly accurate elevation data that allows scientists and mapping professionals to examine both natural and man-made environments with precision and flexibility. Specialists can use this data to measure everything from trees and agricultural fields to buildings and transportation systems. Within the Forest Service, LiDAR data allows specialists to map roads and streams, model wildlife habitats, and chart the impact of fire on the landscape.

“LiDAR is base data that can help almost every aspect of forest operations, as well as programs and projects across Arizona, because it provides a complete picture of the landscape,” said Mark Christiano, GIS coordinator for the Kaibab National Forest and one of the lead organizers of the LiDAR symposium. “Ultimately, LiDAR can save lives. This data is critical in planning for natural disasters, such as wildfires and floods, and in creating better maps for search and rescue and other emergency response operations. It has a huge range of applications, making it a critical resource for many agencies and organizations, including the Forest Service.”

Currently, there is little LiDAR data available in the state of Arizona. To address this issue, the Arizona Geographic Information Council created a work group focused on the goal of facilitating the collection of LiDAR. It was as part of this work group that Christiano, along with Jenna Straface, senior GIS analyst for the Arizona State Land Department, came up with the symposium concept.

Opportunities such as the recent symposium help in achieving the objectives of statewide LiDAR coverage and the creation of educational platforms that increase public and industry knowledge of LiDAR.

Kaibab National Forest has focused on acquiring LiDAR data and has recently achieved coverage of about 1.26 million acres of the forest’s 1.6 million acres, which specialists believe will help better sustain and manage these public lands.

“Land managers are being asked to assess current condition, evaluate and compare treatment outcomes, and monitor the success or failure of treatments at increased spatial scales and usually with reduced resources,” said Dr. Andrew Sánchez Meador, a professor at Northern Arizona University and a guest speaker at the LiDAR symposium. “LiDAR can provide accurate information about these forests, in three dimensions and over vast areas, thus delivering the detailed and scalable information necessary for the planning and management of our forest resources.”

The symposium’s success has coordinators planning to make it an annual event. Sponsors of this year’s event were the Forest Service, Northern Arizona University’s School of Forestry and Ecological Restoration Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and the remote sensing and surveying company Atlantic.

“This is the beginning of a great statewide partnership that we can use to overcome communication barriers,” Christiano said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the LiDAR symposium become a nexus of education and a platform for groups to showcase their LiDAR partnerships and projects.”

Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio speaks to symposium attendees.
Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio, Kaibab National Forest, spoke to attendees during the symposium opening. Forest Service photo.
A Lidar image of tree canopy and terrain.
LiDAR image showing canopy density and terrain. Oblique with height scale.