Using Technology to Improve Safety and Efficiency of Natural Resource Inventories

Here at Logan Simpson, our environmental consultants offer expertise in national resources inventories (NRI) — a federal natural resource monitoring protocol developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS has been conducting this statistical sampling of land use and natural resource conditions and trends on US lands since 1982.  While initially restricted to non-federal lands, NRI sampling sites recently expanded to BLM-managed grazing lands in the western US, making it the most comprehensive monitoring database in the world. In 2013, Logan Simpson completed two NRI contracts for NRCS on BLM grazing lands in Nevada. Our success is due to an experienced in-house staff, attention to accuracy, and the implementation of technologies that reduce the time it takes to sample and travel between sites.

Completing each NRI sampling site (called a segment) requires application of knowledge in each of three different disciplines: soils, botany, and range management. Team leads must be masters of all three, but are typically supported by technical leads in botany and soils. For example, NRCS requires at each NRI point a census of all the plants within a 150 foot diameter circular area. A crew biologist must locate, accurately identify to species, and record the relative density of typically 25 (and up to 40) different plants within 15 minutes. Much like a triathlon, speed, efficiency, accuracy in execution and fast transitions between tasks and plots (called points) are qualities needed to successfully complete an NRI contract.

Using Field Technology for Efficiency and Accuracy

Vegetation Sampling.  Due to the hike of up to two miles between NRI sampling points, there is limited opportunity to carry plants or even look up them up in a set of manuals. Logan Simpson meets this challenge with highly experienced botany leads who are familiar with the bulk of species encountered and through the use of smartphones loaded with keys to Intermountain Flora.

Soil Characterizations and Ecological Site Descriptions (ESDs). Logan Simpson utilizes the data storage and portability of smartphones and other electronics to ensure access to necessary information in the field. Our soils leads must be able to quickly identify the soil series based on profile characteristics for instant retrieval in the field. To eliminate the need to carry heavy paper references, we load official soil descriptions onto iPods.  Logan Simpson range management specialists do the same with ecological site descriptions and their reference sheets, which are needed to characterize a point and complete a rangeland health assessment of the area surrounding that point. These electronic resources ensure that even if the soils are incorrectly mapped, or an ESD hasn’t yet been developed, our environmental consultants can still make informed site characterizations and execute the required field work accurately and efficiently.

Using Technology for Safe, Efficient Navigation. Another challenge Logan Simpson has successfully mastered on NRI contracts is safe and efficient navigation to the remote segments randomly selected for sampling across a state. In Nevada, our NRI field teams often lacked a cell signal and had to rely on maps and global positioning satellite signals. As good as state atlases have become, they lack the necessary reliability needed to navigate backcountry roads with safety and confidence. Thus, Logan Simpson team leads have become adept at using geographical information system applications like ESRI ArcMap – used to produce topographic maps and aerial photos which aided field crews in locating and navigating to remote sites. Additionally, ArcMap has been used by Logan Simpson to identify segments which were ineligible for sampling due to non-BLM land ownership, steep slopes, well-developed forests, or un-vegetated substrates like plays, badlands and rock outcrops. Moving forward, there is an opportunity for Logan Simpson to simplify both pre-screening and navigation by using portable GPS devices with both the newly released Birds Eye high-resolution satellite imagery and traditional topographic map overlays.