A GIS Learning Experience - Getting Hands On
By Stephanie Jouvet
I’m currently attending the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) undergraduate degree program at Selkirk College which is designed to foster the ability and technical skills to collect, manage and analyze spatial data across many industries. In addition, I work as a student researcher for the Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC) where they focus on using geospatial technologies to solve current environmental and socio-economic issues.
"Lucky for me, I was given the opportunity to team up with both professionals and conduct my undergraduate thesis research on the whitebark pine project being carried out in Darkwoods." ~ Jouvet
Darkwoods is privately owned and operated by the NCC and is located in the West Kootenays of British Columbia, nestled between Nelson and Creston, and represents 63,000 hectares of land used for the purpose of conserving ecological and cultural integrity.
The area consists of complex and remote terrain that encompasses valleys, mountains, lakes, creeks and diverse forests that provide important habitat to many different plant and animal species including various listed as threatened or endangered by the Species At Risk Act (SARA).
Keystone Species Management - Using Remote Sensing
To better understand the objectives of my thesis, it’s important that I touch on a critical component. Whitebark pine is a species integral to high elevation ecosystems in western North America. It’s considered a keystone species for the many ecological benefits it provides including its high-quality food source that is relied upon by many wildlife species.
In Canada, whitebark pine is federally listed under the Species at Risk Act and continues to rapidly decline due to the comprehensive impacts of white pine blister rust, mountain pine beetle, fire suppression and climate change.
Extensive recovery strategies have been implemented in efforts to mitigate those impacts, however, the full regional extent and distribution of whitebark pine occurrence is still unknown. Before we can apply effective localized recovery strategies at a patch or stand level, we must know the distribution and occurrence across the landscape.
Remote sensing has become an integral tool utilized by forest managers as it streamlines traditional field-based data collection by reducing the time and resources needed to map detailed forest information over large spatial extents. My thesis focuses on using remote sensing methods and techniques to distinguish whitebark pine from other subalpine species within diverse forest environments. The aim is to explore the spectral characteristics of each tree species of interest and identify any discerning features that can be used to isolate the different species from each other.
Using the spectral information derived, and additional ancillary data, a distribution model for whitebark pine will be created in order to generate a map that illustrates the probability of whitebark pine occurrence for initially the smaller study are within Darkwoods. This model will ideally uncover whitebark pine populations that haven’t been previously identified, therefore, allowing for the health of those trees to be assessed and the best localized treatments to be applied if necessary.
Beautiful Mountains - Epic Views
The reference data were collected from two high elevation sites, Mt. Burnett and Mt. McGregor, both breathtakingly beautiful mountains that have epic views and provide habitat for many old growth and new generation whitebark pine trees.
"I feel extremely fortunate to have spent a number of days exploring this remote and wild place, and although the research is still in the preliminary stages, I’m optimistic that our efforts will contribute to conserving the foundational whitebark pine species within the Darkwoods Conservation Area." ~Jouvet
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a highly valued workplace asset with industries increasingly needing GIS experts. With unmatched flexibility, you can enter and exit our program at a variety of points in your academic career.