National Land Cover Map

Pursuant to an announcement from its press office on June 11, the US Geological Survey released the first detailed national map of land cover vegetation. The map (which can be viewed with an online viewer and downloaded) is designed to help make decisions concerning wildlife support. It was produced by the USGS Gap Analysis Program (GAP).

“These data are critical for determining the status of biodiversity, as baseline data for assessing climate change impacts, and for predicting the availability of habitat for wildlife,” said John Mosesso, Gap Analysis Program Manager. “Large datasets of this type are extremely important to land and wildlife managers because they allow for analysis and planning across extensive geographic areas.”

The map displays 551 Ecological Systems and modified Ecological Systems. The online viewer is designed to permit the viewer to inspect the map in different scales:

“The online map viewing interface has been designed to allow users to explore land cover data at three levels of complexity.  Level 1 contains eight classes: grassland, shrubland, forest, aquatic, sparse and barren, recently disturbed, riparian, and human land use. Level 2 contains 43 classes, and incorporates information on elevation and climate. Level 3 contains the full 583 classes. This online tool facilitates exploration of ecological system distribution patterns at multiple scales and allows users to calculate statistics on the types of vegetation occurring within a mapping zone, a state, or a county.”

As I’ve indicated before, I am somewhat partial to the visual display of information by means of maps, but that bias notwithstanding, this map is well worth the time you spend on it.

I should note, however, that although denominated a “national” map, it does not include Alaska or Hawaii. This note is particularly ironic today (July 4, 2010), which is the 50th anniversary of the first time that the American flag containing 50 stars was flown — at Fort McHenry National Mounument in Baltimore and at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The 50 year period during which this flag has flown has been the longest period of use of any one flag by the United States.

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