GPS adding more pre­ci­sion to con­ser­va­tion

The Covington News - - Classifieds -

SO­CIAL CIR­CLE — Un­less lost in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia res­i­dents may not con­sider us­ing a Global Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tem on an everyday ba­sis. For wildlife bi­ol­o­gists, how­ever, GPS tech­nol­ogy means com­plet­ing con­ser­va­tion work faster, more ef­fi­ciently and for less money.

The first GPS satel­lite was launched in 1978 but use has only been wide­spread in the last 15 years, af­ter the tech­nol­ogy was made avail­able for civil­ians in the 1980s.

Orig­i­nally cre­ated for mil­i­tary applications by the U.S. Depart­ment of De­fense, the satel­lite-based nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem is now help­ing wildlife agen­cies ap­proach con- ser­va­tion strate­gies for ev­ery­thing from ea­gles and bats to rare plants and pre­scribed fire with a new per­spec­tive.

“GPS tech­nol­ogy has proven to be very use­ful in our an­nual aerial bald ea­gle nest-mon­i­tor­ing ef­forts,” said Jim Ozier, pro­gram man­ager with the Geor­giaW­ildlife Re­sources Divi­sion’s Nongame Con­ser­va­tion Sec­tion. “By fly­ing di­rectly from nest to nest we are able to ef­fi­ciently use ex­pen­sive air­time to gather ac­cu­rate data across the en­tire state.”

Linked to a net­work of 24 satel­lites, GPS­works in all weather con­di­tions any­where in the world 24 hours a day. There are no sub­scrip­tion fees or setup charges, mak­ing it a cost-ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive for wildlife bi­ol­o­gists in the field. Hand- held de­vices have be­come a nec­es­sary ad­di­tion for pre­scribed fire crews, which must of­ten nav­i­gate through dense for­est and dis­ori­ent­ing smoke while work­ing. The tech­nol­ogy also helps re­searchers track changes in rare plant habi­tat such as moun­tain bogs.

In ad­di­tion to lo­cat­ing and tracking ex­ist­ing habi­tat, GPS has other ad­van­tages.

“Po­ten­tial new (ea­gle) nest lo­ca­tions can be en­tered into the GPS ahead of time and in­ves­ti­gated along the route. And other items of in­ter­est that we ob­serve along the way, such as pocket gopher mounds or rock out­crop­pings, can be marked for fu­ture ref­er­ence,” Ozier said. “This sys­tem helps bi­ol­o­gists eas­ily co­or­di­nate their re­search, help­ing to elim­i­nate time- con­sum­ing dou­ble work.”

Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia grad­u­ate stu­dent Matt Cle­ment has drawn at­ten­tion this year for his work with bats in Ge­or­gia swamps. What most don’t know is Cle­ment would be lost without his hand­held GPS unit.

“Stor­ing GPS lo­ca­tions helps you to re­turn to the same place dur­ing fu­ture sur­veys,” he said. “This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant when a dif­fer­ent per­son is try­ing to lo­cate pre­vi­ously doc­u­mented (bat) pop­u­la­tions in the fu­ture.”

Wildlife Re­sources bi­ol­o­gist Trina Mor­ris works closely with Cle­ment, con­duct­ing sur­veys for rare bats. She agrees that GPS is a crit­i­cal tool for field­work.

“It is the best way to record ac­cu­rate lo­ca­tions of pop­u­la­tions of species of con­cern,” Mor­ris said. “In the past, bi­ol­o­gists would draw lo­ca­tions on maps by hand, and al­though of­ten close, it’s hard to tell ex­actly where you are on a map when you’re in the field.”

GPS units are also im­por­tant tools for work­ing in un­known ter­ri­tory. Most new units in­clude the abil­ity to up­load to­po­graphic maps of the ar­eas users will be vis­it­ing, a help­ful fea­ture in re­mote places.

De­spite the ad­vances in high­tech gad­gets, field work­ers should have a backup. “There is al­ways an er­ror es­ti­mate with a GPS unit,” Cle­ment said. “I can be at a tree on day one and then on day two be at the same tree and my unit will say the tree I am looking for is 20 me­ters away.

“That is why you have to use a com­bi­na­tion of tech­niques to do field­work.”

“A GPS can­not re­place a com­pass and pa­per maps,” Mor­ris ex­plained, “be­cause some­times it’s dif­fi­cult to get a good sig­nal in heavy tree cover or dif­fi­cult ter­rain.”

Also, she said, elec­tronic equip­ment is al­ways sub­ject to fail­ure.

Ge­or­gia’s nongame wildlife li­cense plates are a can’t-fail op­tion for help­ing con­serve rare bats and other nongame wildlife, na­tive plants and nat­u­ral habi­tats.

The­bald ea­gle­an­druby-throated hum­ming­bird plates are avail­able for a one-time $25 fee at county tag offices, by check­ing the wildlife li­cense plate box on mail-in reg­is­tra­tions and through on­line re­newals (http://mvd.dor.ga.gov/tags).

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