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GIS team selected to aid state forestry commission

IESA canopy study
The current amount of tree canopy in Georgia, as shown here, is of great interest to the Georgia Forestry Commission, which is seeking to identify how the amount of canopy is changing from year to year.

The Georgia Forestry Commission wants to know how much tree canopy the state had in 2015, and they are contracting a team from the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental & Spatial Analysis (IESA) to conduct the study.

Dr. Allison Bailey, associate professor in IESA, is the principal investigator of the project leading a team of students to quantify the amount of canopy observed in high-resolution satellite photos taken this past year.

"Urban areas and the amount of tree canopy affect our environmental conditions," Bailey said. "It's incredibly useful to know how Georgia's canopy has changed over time."

Students Jonathan Stewart and Emily Hunt are working under the direction of Andrew Hilliard, who graduated in August with a Bachelor of Science in environmental and spatial analysis with a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Along with Bailey, they receive imagery and data from the U.S. Geographical Service then analyze it, and are developing a model that will be transferred onto a map of Georgia.

"We've all had school projects on deadline, but nothing on this kind of scale," Hilliard said. "We are processing around 1.3 terabytes of data, getting real-world experience of what a client would expect in a product, and we are learning how difficult it can be to deliver that. This is definitely good job experience, as well as good professional, team-building and leadership development. Our time spent on this project is also transferable to a professional GIS license, which is a huge plus."

Joan Scales, sustainable community forestry program manager for the Georgia Forestry Commission, said this project will help them encourage communities to better manage their trees.

"We are trying to get some data that we can use to showcase different ways that communities can conserve the canopy, as well as ways for them to understand that the use of impervious surfaces in construction is detrimental to the environment," Scales said. "Those surfaces cause damage in several ways, such as collecting pollutants that wash into our water. Our hope it that this new study will help us see how much canopy we are losing, and we are planning two more phases to the study — phase two will be quantifying our impervious surfaces."

IESA was formed in 2001 on UNG's Gainesville Campus; it promotes education through the use of advanced technology, interdisciplinary instruction, collaborative learning, and community service and outreach. The institute brings together the perspectives of numerous disciplines through the synthesis of geospatial science and technology, applied techniques, and theory to address social, human and environmental issues. Students, faculty and staff work together with industry, government and community partners through their coursework resulting in a dynamic and socially relevant learning environment.

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