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How Indian forestry is using GIS to maintain the ecological balance

Hexagon Geospatial’s technologies are helping an Indian state maintain the ecological balance in an area of over 77,000 sq km

In terms of natural resources, Madhya Pradesh is one of the most blessed states of India. Being second-largest by geographic area has allowed one-third of the state to host various 18 different kinds of forests, including tropical moist, tropical dry, tropical thorn, and subtropical broadleaved hill forests.

The presence of tigers, buffalo, and a wide variety of deer, antelope, and birds in these forests makes Madhya Pradesh a prominent wildlife tourism destination in India. The jungles also provide catchment areas for rivers like Narmada, Chambal, Betwa and Sone. The economic importance of the forests also cannot be undermined as timber (primarily teak) and non-timber forest products, such as, medicinal herb collection, contribute greatly to the state.

Guardians of the woods

Understandably, the Madhya Pradesh Forestry Department has its plate full with responsibilities to maintain the ecological balance an area of over 77,000 square kilometers. It is essential that the department’s large and geographically dispersed workforce is responsive, transparent, accountable, and service-oriented.

About 70% of the forest area is protected and managed by more than 15,000 Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs). These committees systematically organize the planning, implementation, and monitoring of all forestry-related operations. They keep a track of changes in the amount of forested area, as well as how that land is being used.

The JFMCs also collect and store a variety of GIS and geospatial data, requiring access to satellite imagery and vectors defining the forest boundaries. It is essential that this data is efficiently managed, stored, and cataloged with quality metadata. In order to facilitate an effective decision system, this data is then made available to all stakeholders, including the remote and rural tribes who depend on the forest for their livelihood, as well as the decision makers within the department.

The to-do list

Essentially, this means that the forestry department is required to use satellite imagery to map the forest, quantify tree growth and calculate forested area, all processed on the central data server. In addition to mapping remote areas, the department must identify illegal encroachments onto forest land and illegal mining activities within the forest boundaries. Moreover, they need automated ways to monitor forest change analysis (afforestation and deforestation) and the forest density.

Setting goals

→ Manage large repository of satellite imagery covering entire state from multiple years
→ Automatically catalog and harvest metadata from newly acquired data
→ Serve data as OGC services for decision-makers
→ Quantify changes in forest cover and changes in vegetation
→ Analyze the illegal mining activities within the forest area
→ Generate reports for stakeholders to monitor the changes in land use

Powerful tools

To achieve the set goals, the Madhya Pradesh Forestry Department chose Hexagon Geospatial’s ERDAS IMAGINE Professional and ERDAS APOLLO software. While ERDAS IMAGINE provides the capability to efficiently exploit satellite imagery, ERDAS APOLLO facilitates the cataloguing and discovery of datasets. ERDAS APOLLO searches through the watched directories to automatically catalog the data, harvest the required metadata, and serve the data as OGC Services. It also provides granular, role-based user management, custom queries, and fast downloads of the data.

LISS III, LISS IV and WorldView satellites are providing the department with satellite imagery. The processing prowess of ERDAS IMAGINE Professional is being leveraged to aid image georeferencing, image subset, image mosaics, classification, etc. To set up the server-side, on-demand geoprocessing tasks, the department uses the Spatial Modeler in ERDAS IMAGINE. This tool provides an ever-growing toolbox of geoprocessing operators that allow the department to build their own models and publish them to ERDAS APOLLO as Web Processing Services (WPS). This allows the forest officials to perform server-side, on-demand change-detection of forest using temporal imagery directly in the ERDAS APOLLO catalog with no software requirement at the client side.

Key benefits

Detect changes over the years using multiple tools on an integrated platform

Organize file-based, database and web-enabled geospatial and business data into one human-readable library

Optimize efforts by dynamically creating information and enabling fast image delivery and GIS Integration

Analyze the measures to control deforestation, illegal mining activities and encroachment of forest cover

Efficiencies achieved

With Hexagon Geospatial by its side, the forestry department was able to conduct time series analysis by visualizing the imagery across time. Change analysis was also done by creating Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) maps in the region to analyze the change in vegetation. The department monitored the use of land by identifying forest land encroachment and illegal mining activities. Moreover, easy-to-interpret reports facilitated effective communication.