CTSP Newsletter (Web Version) PAGE 10
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CTSP Grantee Stories, Successes and Struggles

Urban Conservation: New York City Audubon Society Defends Wetlands with GIS (CTSP 1997)

Eymund Diegel & Ann Litke

New York City has 578 miles of coastline and wetlands that are home to ibis, egrets and herons. Jamaica Bay, in Brooklyn and Queens, has more than 4,000 acres of tidal wetland. Countless smaller wetlands are scattered through the boroughs and many of these are vulnerable to development projects. However, there is no existing citywide GIS which environmental groups, city agencies and community organizations can use to evaluate the impact of projects on our wetland resources.

In 1995, in response to concerns about diminishing federal levels of wetland protection because of proposal changes to the Clean Water Act, the Wetlands Committee of New York City Audubon Society (NYCAS) developed a prototype GIS of Staten Island wetlands. The GIS proved invaluable when a city sponsored Economic Development Agency argued that an area containing state and federal mapped tidal wetland in northwest Staten Island could support development. NYCAS stepped forward with appropriate maps and pointed out that the area had been mapped as tidal marsh in 1990 by the city's own parks department. The lack of a single source of information has allowed different city agencies to pursue conflicting land use agendas.

Since receiving our CTSP grant in 1997, we have been able to advance our GIS program considerably, and provide critical maps to many of our partners and collaborators.

This year because of the large number of habitats under development pressures in New York our main efforts where aimed at protecting these sites through the rapid provision of mapping information, primarily through digitized and annotated aerials.

Though these aerials constitute low quality mapping, their speed and convenience made them more effective in the short term than the higher quality GIS mapping.

This however will change as we get all our data layers correctly referenced and in graphic formats suitable for quick high quality, high legibility maps, suitable for faxing and e-mail.


A typical issue we have worked with was the proposed conversion of buffer lands around the Jamaica Bay Wildlife refuge into a mega-mall and housing.

In arguing for continuing the policy guidelines of the Trust for Public Land's "Buffer the Bay" report, we used both maps and digital photos. With the new equipment, and exposure to the resources of the CTSP network, we were able to present more credible arguments for preserving our ever dwindling urban habitats.

We will be reformatting and refining current habitat classifications for Jamaica Bay, New York City's second largest habitat concentration, into a high resolution web page legible format.

However, in providing more detailed mapping via for example an Acrobat PDF format, we don't want to lose the convenience of GIF and JPG maps, as shown above. Many of our members don't want to learn new software to view or download maps. This problem is bridged by the black and white rasterized maps, which most of our members can then uses in their publications.

One of our aims is to provide a full library of these via our web site.

As part of our continuing efforts to create an online digital atlas of NYC habitats, we will be completely redesigning our web site over the spring to upload new maps we are currently developing. We will be linking in other sites providing relevant coverage of NYC habitats.

This will include the updating of our Staten Island maps with last years revised wetland delineations:

As our expertise with online mapping evolves we look forward to serving habitat protection interests through this exciting public access medium.

NYCAs is a volunteer organization with a 17-year history of environmental leadership and accomplishment, including management of wetlands, grassland restoration and research on heron nesting sites. NYCAS is looked to by legislators, local community board members, other environmental groups, the general public and its own members for well-documented and scientifically based opinions for preserving NYC natural habitats.



All text © by the respective organizations, November 15, 1999

Compilation & web design: Charles Convis, ESRI Conservation Program, November 15, 1999