Annica Nord
Environmental Studies Internship
May 9, 2005

Blue Mountain Land Trust grant application writing for GIS

Objectives

• Research ways to obtain GIS for the BMLT

- What parts the BMLT will need and what parts they can do without
- Reasons as to why it is important for the BMLT to obtain

• Complete the grant application (halfway through the semester this became my number one goal as I saw how difficult the application process was)

• Install GIS layers over maps (never reached this point because they had not yet received the system)

• Obtain maps of (never reached this point because they had not yet received the system)

- Soils
- threatened species habitat
- Already protected habitat
- Wetlands

• Work a minimum of 4 hours a week on the internship

• Send Beth a weekly email to keep her posted on what I am working on

 


Blue Mountain Land Trust

The Blue Mountain Land Trust (BMLT) is a non-profit organization founded by residents of southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon wanting to preserve the natural heritage of the area. Their goal is to protect and preserve critical habitat, open spaces, scenic areas, forests, agricultural lands, historically significant spaces, etc. They achieve this through working with landowners.

Landowners wishing to protect and preserve their land may donate or sell their land with a significantly reduced market fee to the land trust. If the landowner would like to maintain ownership of the land their option may be to make a conservation easement with the land trust. A conservation easement is a legal document between the private land owner and the land trust. It limits uses of the property in order to conserve and protect the land from inappropriate development. The owner may still own, live, use, or sell the land to another owner. The new owner must follow the same rules of the easement written by the previous owner.

Some rights to the land are given up in exchange for reduced fees on the land. Conservation easements reduce future estate taxes as well as leading to income tax deductions. Some of these rights (which are given up) may include prohibiting development or subdivision. Provided the landowner truly wants the land to be preserved as it is, this is a win-win situation with the land trust.

The way conservation easements work is dealing with the value of the land. By prohibiting the development of the land (via the easement), the market value is significantly reduced. Lands with low market value have lower estate tax. It is the duty of the land trust to make sure the guidelines of the easement are followed by the owner. The goal of the BMLT is to work with landowners to conserve and protect important open spaces through providing options to reduce fees and therefore preventing the desire or need to sell to developers.

The BMLT has an important role in the community preserving historic and important locations of Walla Walla. It is important in preserving as much of the small town feel of Walla Walla as possible and preventing it or slowing it from becoming the next Spokane.

A large problem the BMLT has is with lack of funding. The all volunteer staff is limited and works hard. The limit of funds makes it difficult for them to have the money for purchasing a geographical information system (hence the grant application) as well as hiring someone to manage and operate the system.



Geographical Information Systems

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is a computer system used to categorize information and display it in map format. It links geographic features (represented by maps) to data or information about the particular features. Maps can be overlaid by other maps each displaying a different feature of the land or different information about the area. Combining certain maps together displays a focus personalized for any specific purpose. These map features may include soil habitat, private and public lands, etc. It is important for a land trust to have a GIS system to correctly identify and prioritize prime areas needed for conservation and protection.

It is important for the BMLT to own a GIS for many reasons. It is an important aid in prioritizing lands for the land trust to focus and work on obtaining them. Land trusts also have a large social net to manage. This will be important as the BMLT continues to expand and grow. They also need the system to view other information owned by other agencies and organizations in the Walla Walla area that contain information needed by the BMLT; they need the system to view this important information since the industry is relying more and more on GIS. It is also important to have GIS for presentation purposes. It is important to show land and specific features on maps for different kinds of presentations. These maps and presentations may be for arranging data clearly for project grant proposals. It can also be helpful in monitoring process of their lands. Selecting certain features and showing them all on one page or map rather than having twenty different maps each displaying a different feature of the land (i.e. one map for national forests, another for private land, and another for wilderness areas).

 

Reflections

When I first began thinking about this internship, I thought I would be gaining much experience in mapping, especially on the computer. Computer mapping is why I chose this internship even though the BMLT did not yet own a GIS. The process in acquiring it has been much slower and more complicated than I had anticipated. I thought it would take less than a month for the BMLT to own a GIS. A large problem with obtaining the technology was the extremely high cost. A non-profit organization like the BMLT does not have much money to spend. ESRI, a provider of GIS technology, has a grant program for environmental conservation organizations. Two months after the board for the BMLT approved obtaining GIS, the semester-long application process began. I filled out the application for the grant. This was difficult for me to accomplish because I had begun this internship with no knowledge of the BMLT or any information about land trusts for that matter. I also was not as familiar with GIS as I needed to be in order to determine which parts of GIS the BMLT needed and which they could do without. Much of the semester was spent on researching both subjects in order to be able to write up answers to the questions on the grant application.

It was very disappointing that I never reached my goal of constructing maps for the BMLT. I considered using the GIS at Whitman but then realized more focus was needed on finishing the application. Without GIS, the BMLT would not be able to view the data they need. They cannot rely on Whitman to run the organization. They need a system of their own. Therefore the application process became my main priority.

I realize now that GIS is becoming more widespread and I will most certainly be using it in a career in geology. However, I realize that in order to be able to efficiently use GIS more training is crucial. The Umatilla Tribe also has most of the information that the BMLT is already interested in. The BMLT also has connections with other non-profit organizations in the area that already have the information the BMLT needs. Obtaining GIS was crucial in being able to access this information. It is also important for them to make their work more efficient and aid them in expanding the lands they protect.

While it was challenging to motivate myself for this internship, I realize that it is important and it was something that needed to be done. I learned about GIS and the complicated components which will most likely be important to understand in my career. Since learning how widespread it is, I realize now that it is likely that I will be using GIS in my career. GIS will only continue to grow and expand in our society.

Beth Theil has been a wonderful supervisor. She is encouraging and wants me to enjoy the work as well. Although I know she is very busy, she was prompt in answering any questions I had. She also did her best to assist me in anything I needed.

 

My learning experience

Every time I talked with Beth, she inspired me to work harder. However, quickly I would become overwhelmed and lost which made it difficult to stay motivated. It was also difficult because as the semester went on, my goals changed. I realize I thrive better with structure. I needed to implement this myself. Making more specific and achievable weekly goals for the remainder of the semester helped me be more productive. This internship has been difficult for me. I realize I need to be the one to create structure.

Not only did I learn more about myself and better ways for me to motivate myself, I have learned about the concept of land trusts and how important they are in protecting land from development. I am interested in sustainable development and smart planning of land use. Therefore, it is important for me to learn that there are several different ways to protect areas from development.



Logistics

The logistics are not demanding at all. Most of this internship was done on my own time at my own pace. This was good and bad. It is basically a self-motivated independent project. Beth supervises but designing much of the work done is up to me. At times I picked up information at her house which was fairly close to campus. She always offered to drop it off at my house which means there is no difficulty with transportation.

 

Recommendations for the future

For future interns I would recommend them to be a self motivated person who thrives on lack of structure. They must have good research skills and are technically minded. The next step for this internship will be compiling information and entering it into the computer system. Computer work will be very important therefore someone who has already worked with GIS would be very valuable to this internship. There is a possibility of taking a free class on GIS. I do not know if the BMLT would rather have one of the board members take it or have the intern take a spot and teach some board members.