Mapping The Big Land

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Nature Conservancy of Canada completing landmark project

Nature Conservancy of Canada conservation planner Lindsay Notzl, with volunteer Nature Conservancy of Canada Atlantic board member Winston White, on the water in the Terrington Basin, Labrador. — Submitted Photo/Photo courtesy of Nature Conservancy of Canada

In the final year of a three-year, monumental endeavour, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is completing the first “conservation blueprint” for Labrador.

The project has been a massive effort in data gathering and analysis — recording everything from existing residential developments to wetland areas to a cumulative human footprint index.

Once completed, the work will offer up a final, valuable resource for the public and political decisionmakers alike, as hydro projects, roads, new mines and other developments are proposed, and potential environmental impacts considered.

The end product of the Nature Conservancy of Canada project may be in a standard report form, or something quite different. “We’d like to be able to create an interactive map atlas out of this work,” said conservation planner Lindsay Notzl, currently based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. She said it is still being determined if and how the online product can be built.

Meanwhile, the project — including twice-yearly meetings with a core team of governmental and non-governmental partners — has been significant enough to earn team leaders invitation to international conferences on geography and data mapping.

The 15th annual conference of the Society for Conservation Geographic Information Systems was held in Pacific Grove, Calif., July 19-22.

Among presentations such as “Evaluating deforestation, topsoil erosion and sedimentation in MaMa Bay, Madagascar,” one could find Notzl, speaking about “Drafting a conservation blueprint for Labrador, Canada.”

This week she is in San Diego, attending the Esri International User Conference, where she will again be talking about the Labrador blueprint.

The project, Notzl said Wednesday, by phone from California, is aimed at identifying ecologically significant areas and conservation priorities, potentially allowing conservation efforts to get out ahead of major development.

“This is the first time, that I know, such a comprehensive study of all of Labrador has ever been attempted,” she told The Telegram.

Big Land

At 294,330 square kilometres, Lab-rador is larger than the rest of Atlantic Canada combined. With large, far-flung watersheds, one of the 10 largest remaining intact forests in the world and areas inaccessible apart from helicopter travel, gathering up ecological information on The Big Land is no small feat.

“(Existing information) is not very transparent or easily accessible. Trying to figure out what’s out there, it was difficult to do,” Notzl said.

Work on environmental assessments to date has resulted in some baseline information being reported, yet that information is site-specific in each case.

“There’s great data on a smaller scale, but it’s just in little pockets, so trying to merge that all together and then fill in those gaps where — there’s really large parts of Labrador where people don’t go very regularly and there hasn’t been a lot of studies carried out on habitat types, or species that are located there,” Notzl said.

After gathering what information was available, the project team then identified gaps in the data, ultimately trying to fill in information from the ground wherever possible.

“There wasn’t a lot of good information about the different habitat types on the landscape, so we had to put together a bunch of different data sets and create new coverage,” Notzl said.

Breeding grounds for waterfowl, seabird colonies, mapping of important areas for Labrador’s caribou herds were all pieces of the whole.

“We also worked with the Department of Natural Resources, the forestry division to digitize some old forest inventory data that was done actually prior to the creation of the Smallwood Reservoir. So I’m sure that’s going to be of interest for a lot of researchers.”

The information will provide a picture of the forest past and present, she said.

Notzl said analysis work will likely be completed by the end of the year. The final product — whether online or on paper — will is expected to be available in the first half of 2013.

Organizations: Society for Conservation Geographic Information Systems, Department of Natural Resources

Geographic location: California, Labrador, Atlantic Canada Happy Valley Goose Bay Pacific Grove MaMa Bay Madagascar San Diego

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