When separate agencies working together have a greater outcome than the sum total of each part, there is a big payoff. So when the 56th Range Management Office hosted its annual meeting with 27 geographic information systems professionals at the Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field in November, it was a time to acknowledge their corporate achievements. The group meets to share data and find solutions to common problems associated with federal and state land management.
Working on issues together has been of great benefit to all.
The 56th RMO is considered a model for state and federal partnerships. With tight budgets and limited abilities, the payoff to partners included reduced costs and sharing information so as not to duplicate efforts.
Originally conceived and organized in 2006 by Chris Black, RMO geographer, primarily as a military land focus group for the Barry M. Goldwater Range-East, BMGR West and Yuma Proving Ground, the group has expanded to include representatives from neighboring land management agencies, border patrol, state cartographers office and Maricopa County. With the additional agencies, the focus of the group broadened from a military lands focus to regional land management issues that impact all.
“The group benefits from sharing data and knowledge,” Black said. “Building ties between individuals and the different federal and state partners has really given everyone involved an edge. Regional collaboration is paramount as individual agency ability only goes so far.”
There are myriad players in the GIS community and with a wide assortment of focuses the knowledge base is substantial and the benefits widespread.
Drew Decker, USGS geospatial liaison, said the biggest advantage of being a member of the group is that it helps him to learn about what projects are underway by the group members and gives him a better idea of how they can work together.
“My role is to help provide data resources to the GIS community in Arizona and Southern California and to plan partnerships supporting map datasets,” he said. “Connecting with this diverse group of GIS users and their missions is a big addition.”
William Stone, a geodetic advisor with National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration National Geodetic Survey from New Mexico, participates in the group to build relationships in order to offer better products and services.
“I am a one-man office that covers the southwest region and my main responsibility is to support the wide spectrum of our users, such as GIS practitioners, surveyors, mappers, geophysical researchers, engineers, etc.,” he said. “The information provided by my agency is used widely throughout the GIS community, and by getting to know the group and their specific needs and requirements, I am better able to support them.”
The group discovered that most of the issues they each face are actually regional issues with regard to land management, and by sharing information, oftentimes solution times are reduced, and so are costs. It became apparent very quickly that with large-scale projects, there was no getting around cutting costs or the project wouldn’t be completed.
“We talked about the idea that we’re interested in data collection, but we really needed to pool our efforts to reduce costs because of the scale of some of the projects,” Black said.
One such project was the Southwest Arizona Regional Road Network map book, developed by Black. Through collaboration, he gathered input from all regional land mangers to come up with a combined product to assist all the region’s agencies with navigation, resource management, and safety.
“It is the biggest success story out of the group,” Black said. “All the partner agencies combined put in several hundred hours of work to turn the book into a reality. I got the best data from each agency for their lands and combined it all to create a regional road map book for the area. The map book indicates updated information of roads, military hazard areas and wilderness areas. A year and a half in the making from conception to final frame, the map book was completed in July.”
The map book offers a variety of advantages. It represents the best available maps of the region, which results in reduced resource impacts on the Goldwater Range (and other state and federal lands) such as driving off approved roads. It’s also a valuable tool for border patrol as they navigate around the region, and it improves their safety by showing them where they are so they don’t accidently end up on active bombing ranges.
Land managers in the region collect a wide array of data from traffic counters, wildlife cameras, weather stations and other sensors. During the meeting, the group discussed how they could share the data and analyze it from a regional perspective to better inform shared resource management concerns.
The group was treated to a range tour during their conference and visited a cultural resource site.
“I thought the Goldwater Range tour was great,” Decker said. “We were able to see great views of the landscape, visit some of the bombing range targets, plus saw ancient petroglyphs and met with Adrianne Rankin, RMO archeologist, to learn more about the people who have lived in the area.”
Black is prepared to expand the group and is already looking forward to the next meeting.
“I am very excited about the growth of the group and the accomplishments that we have had over the last year,” he said. “I am looking forward to more collaboration in the future. Most of the issues each agency is concerned with whether endangered species recovery, stemming the tide of illegal trafficking or protecting military training route airspace, can be better understood when analyzed from a regional perspective.”
The 56th RMO maps a variety of military operations occurring on the Goldwater Range, manages airspace operations throughout Arizona, and generates tactical chart maps for the fighter squadrons on base. Natural and cultural resources are also mapped for protection and conservation and for providing geospatial support to explosive ordnance disposal personnel while they are clearing the ranges.