Forests are considered as dynamic resources that are faced with many ecological and management problems. From exposure to mining, the building or roads, and infrastructure, charcoal making industry, logging, declining rainfall, diseases affecting certain species of trees, and general climate change. The above problems do not act in isolation but are cumulative and compounded by the continued mismanagement and ignorance by the government and the society as a whole. However, one of the bigger menaces that face forests is wildfires. This refers to an uncontrollable fire occurring in the wild lands and which can devour forests, vegetative cover, grass, houses and agricultural resources.
This paper aims at focusing the application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in managing forests against wildfires. GIS has a critical role in the management of forests with the scope not only limited to the management of fires but also resource management, harvest planning, map production and strategic planning and modeling.
Forests are a critical part of the ecosystem and thus, should be protected by all means possible. History stipulates that the prehistoric people were mainly hunters and gatherers who survived majorly on wild fruits and plantations. Forests provide to us with economic, environmental values. Economic values emanating from forests include wood, charcoal, timber, and paper. Timber is a major component of the furniture components at home, schools and in offices. Environmental values resulting from the existence of forests include soaking up of excess rainfall, prevention of flooding and soil erosion and general land degradation as a result of rain. Forests are green plants and thus, help in the renewing of the atmosphere as they utilize carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Oxygen supports life in animals. Forests also support the existence of many wild and indigenous plants and animals by providing a natural habitat for them. The natural serene and scenic beauty and peace of the forests is a vital source of enjoyment for people who use them for hiking, camping, and natural hunting (Yilmaz 93-98).
The Geographic Information Systems enables stakeholders, and the different agencies tasked with the protection of forests to be in a position to respond to different calls at a moments notice. GIS is very critical in the effective planning, mitigation process, response and coordination, and lastly, the recovery of the forests.
In planning, GIS provides an easy interface and tools for the maximization of all sorts of data and information. Through the storage of spatial information in the various digital platforms, GIS allows the easy access to data and information regarding the occurrence and factors such as vegetation, scope and weather patterns - the biggest influencers of fire. The visualization, analysis and prioritization of the different values at risk is majorly aided by the GIS. This is collectively known as the mitigation process whereby properties, assets, and resources such as housing developments, research (utility) infrastructure situated near or in forests, cultural/natural resources and wildlife can be salvaged in order of the priorities (Yilmaz 93-98)
In the occurrence of a wildfire, there is always a team on standby to respond. GIS provides the response team with the most important of all a map. These are maps created using databases and with very powerful modeling and analysis functionalities. They guide the response team by providing detailed information regarding where and when they should be for a quicker and a safer response. These maps can be found mounted on special phones, dispatchers console, vehicles, and helicopters. Maps and plans attempt to answer the exact location of the fire, the best route to access the fire, the terrain of the fireplace, the best possible evacuation routes, the existing risks and hazards to the responding units, the values at risk, and lastly, the jurisdiction the incident is within (Pew and Larsen 1-18).
GIS is also important when it comes to the provision of vital information regarding the situational awareness during the response and recovery period in the event of fire. Incident commanders communicate with their counterparts, who operate the systems and are fed information regarding the current and expected weather conditions, the proximity and exact location of the various response and recovery units, the terrain and vegetative condition of the incident area, the evacuation requirements, and the predetermined protection priorities.
GIS also comes in handy during the recovery process. Through the provision of accurate and reliable information to the fire personnel, GIS allows for the conducting of rapid, precise and efficient damage assessment and the amount of rehabilitation needed before, during or after the occurrence of such an emergency. This is majorly aided by the use of GIS integrated platforms that allow efficient collecting, analyzing and displaying of pre and post incident data. Unique smartphones, PDAs, laptops and sophisticated data capturing machines installed on helicopters allow the capturing and storage of vital data relating to the extent of the damage. This information is then stored in GIS and GPS databases for future use (Yilmaz 93-98).
Lastly, with forest management increasingly becoming harder due to increased social and environmental involvements, pressures, ignorance, and mismanagement, GIS looks to play an active and critical role in the efficient management of forests. This will be made easier with the rapid developments in bandwidth, improved wireless connection and communication and the increased use and innovations in web-based technologies. This will provide better opportunities and ease information access especially in remote areas, and thus aid proper forest management.
El-Sabh, M. I et al. Land-Based And Marine Hazards. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 1996. Print.
Pew, K.L and C.P.S Larsen. "GIS Analysis Of Spatial And Temporal Patterns Of Human-Caused Wildfires In The Temperate Rain Forest Of Vancouver Island, Canada". Forest Ecology and Management 140.1 (2001): 1-18. Web.
Pultar, Edward et al. "Dynamic GIS Case Studies: Wildfire Evacuation And Volunteered Geographic Information". Transactions in GIS 13 (2009): 85-104. Web.
Yilmaz, Yalcin. "The Vital Role Of Geographic Information Systems To Fight Forest Fires".International Forest Fire News. Instanbul: University of Instanbul, 2005. 93-98. Print.
Cova, Thomas J. "GIS in emergency management." Geographical information systems 2 (1999): 845-858.
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