Bird's Eye View
High-Res Technology Enhances Landscape Management
By Deborah L. Vence
The possibilities are endless when it comes to landscape management applications using high-resolution aerial imagery.
Applied Ecological Services Inc.'s "defense-grade, high-resolution, multi-spectral camera" can produce aerial images that show fine enough resolution to detect objects as small as 9 to 12 inches in diameter.
To explain in more detail, "the 'multi-spectral' aspect of the Leica RCD30 camera refers to the red, green, blue and near-infrared spectral bands the camera is able to image. The near-infrared band allows for the formation of spectral signatures, characterizing vegetation types (and other land surfaces) by how they uniquely reflect and absorb light," according to information from Applied Ecological Services (AES).
This type of information also can be linked with plant stress and health, seasonal growth phases and long-term ecological changes, enabling a manager to remotely evaluate vegetation over large areas, such as golf courses, efficiently and cost-effectively.
For golf courses, Steven Apfelbaum, founder and principal ecologist at AES, said his company has used multispectral imaging for the following purposes, or in ways that would be useful to a golf course. They are:
- Finding buried infrastructure, such as pipelines, water drain lines, irrigation lines, farm field tile lines. He said this has been really useful to find and map areas with failed or leaking lines.
- Identifying stressed trees, fairway and rough plantings of grass and other plant species. "This has especially been useful to early detection of diseases in lawns, including greens and fairways. And, for doing early detection of stressed trees, such as by Emerald Ash Borer insects, and many others," he said.
- Identifying lawns with irrigation stress and lawns that are too draughty. "The imagery can detect overwatering and also drought as the stressed plants shows up clearly with this imagery," he said.
- Updated high-resolution mapping for increased efficiency in golf course maintenance and operations. Because of the high resolution and reasonable costs for this imagery, it is possible to have annual or every other year new images to use for planning and executing all maintenance and operations needs. This supports more precise and efficient execution.
- Evaluating wildlife impact to a golf course and entry locations onto your property. Trails show up clearly with this imagery as do the grazing and enriched lawns, and eroded pond shorelines where White-tailed deer and Canada geese might be entering and using your golf course.
- Doing wildlife counts to help wildlife personnel and natural resources regulatory agencies review your potential need for a nuisance wildlife control permit. "The high resolution allows for counting and mapping of wildlife use in daytime hours on your course. Aerial photographs, wildlife counts and maps can provide conclusive evidence of a need for a nuisance wildlife control permits," he said.
- Mapping erosion and sedimentation and nutrient enrichment risks and presence and impacts in and around your golf course. Offsite tributary land uses can be easily mapped to determine where suspended solids and nutrients entering you golf course waterways may be coming from. The corollary is also discernible; aiding in the determination and mapping of golf course lawn fertilization impacts to downstream receiving water bodies.
- Mapping illegal trespass into your course. Breaks in fence lines and other perimeter control features, such as hedge rows, are observed easily with this imagery and can be used to confirm illegal entries, and determine and prioritize strategies for managing illegal trespass.
- Planning, design and engineering of changes in your course. He explained that aerial imagery can be combined with LIDAR topographic mapping, or used separately for creating plans, specifications, construction drawings and other high quality documents needed for engaging your membership about forthcoming changes and also for obtaining regulatory permits for implementing the changes.
- Creating collaboration with neighbors to improve a range of benefits for your members, wildlife and conservation, and water quality outcomes. The high-resolution imagery is powerful and useful to bring people together to think through strategies to work together to address visual buffers, noise buffers, work together to address neighborhood water quality impairments and to design trails and greenways that might include your golf course.
With regard to the usefulness of multispectral imaging for working with parks and trails, Apfelbaum said, "AES has used the multispectral imaging for design, planning, engineering, monitoring and management, maintenance of park and trail plans and for many of the same uses as identified above for golf courses."
Meanwhile, the following are some additional uses of the imagery that Apfelbaum discussed for parks and trails:
- Creating a live map for users of trails to report observations. If the high-resolution imagery is available on a park district website (or other hosting organization), he said, it is possible for users to precisely mark wildlife and other observations, including questions about trail maintenance, high risk settings, erosion, etc.
- Planning, design and engineering of new trails. Apfelbaum explained that the "high-resolution imagery supports decisions during planning and construction to avoid individual trees and shrubs, and to ensure the trails are sited to minimize disturbances."
- Monitoring trail conditions and maintenance needs. "Over large park district networks, using this imagery once a year to monitor trail surface and other conditions can save a lot of time and allows your staff to focus management dollars in the locations of highest priority," he said.
- Creation of high-quality trail maps to enhance visitor experience and use of the parks and trails. Good high-quality mapping-presented as an overlay on high resolution aerial photographs-can create enthusiasm and promote trail use.
- Support citizen science and "park friends groups." "Citizen Park and trail stewards can use this high-resolution imagery to do precise maps of invasive plant species and other observations and concerns. The use of the imagery as an outreach tool for engaging the community at large is a powerful way to build and maintain support for parks," he said.
- Addressing real, perceived and political problems with neighbors. AES has used this imagery for creating an objective discussion about concerns with park management, such as where tree cutting to remove diseased trees occurred. In many parks, operations and maintenance employees go about their business of managing the parks, but this is often misunderstood by neighbors. This imagery actually has helped clarify and resolve misunderstandings.
- Creating good park maps and showing regional greenway connections. He noted that the imagery is useful for showing trail connections, greenway routes across a municipal or rural landscape.
To boot, aerial imagery also can be used to create accurate maps of the effects of rainstorms. A manager, for example, can use imagery to detect failing stormwater sewers and drainage pipes. In addition, imagery can be used to map erosion upstream and downstream of a golf course. These images, combined with strategic field measurements, can be used by a golf course manager to respond to water pollution accusations that may be leveled at them when pollution problems arise in the watershed.
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