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CARLSBAD FWO: Service, 4-H and ESRI Team Up to Give Students First Hand Experience in GIS Analysis
California-Nevada Offices , July 10, 2009
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4-H students record location of a survey marker on the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (photo: USFWS)
4-H students record location of a survey marker on the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (photo: USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a
Two 4-H students viewing remnants of the former Hercules Powder Company's plant at Gunpowder Point, now part of the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego Bay Refuge. (photo: V.Touchstone, USFWS) 
Two 4-H students viewing remnants of the former Hercules Powder Company's plant at Gunpowder Point, now part of the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego Bay Refuge. (photo: V.Touchstone, USFWS)  - Photo Credit: n/a
Historic photo of the Hercules Powder Company plant showing some of the 156 redwood storage tanks used in the production of cordite during World War I.
Historic photo of the Hercules Powder Company plant showing some of the 156 redwood storage tanks used in the production of cordite during World War I. - Photo Credit: n/a

by Jane Hendron, Carlsbad FWO
In conjunction with a series of user conferences in San Diego sponsored by ESRI, a California-based  geographic information systems (GIS) technology firm,  20 students from the national 4-H GIS Leadership Team and Equipo GIS, the international division of the Team, were given the opportunity to put their experience using GIS to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex . 

These students, from across the United States, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, located, recorded, and mapped a variety of resources ranging from historic structures to a population of the federally endangered salt marsh bird’s-beak plant. 

Through this effort, the 4-H students learned how GIS can assist in the protection of sensitive resources, while the Refuge Complex acquired valuable data that will aid in the implementation of various resource management activities.

The 20 4-H students and their 17 mentors split into groups and headed out to three different Units of the Refuge Complex.  One group worked with the refuge planner and GIS specialists from the Service’s Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office to locate and record historic resources on the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge (refuge), another group went to the South San Diego Bay Unit of the refuge to conduct vegetation and trail mapping, and a third group traveled south to the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge where some of the students assisted the refuge park ranger in the development of a facilities maintenance plan by recording and mapping the location of existing post and cable fencing, while other students worked with the refuge’s wildlife biologist locating and mapping a population of salt marsh bird’s-beak.

At the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego Bay Refuge, students learned that although the area referred to as Gunpowder Point is now part of a National Wildlife Refuge, it was once a hub of industrial development.  From 1916 through 1919, Hercules Powder Company harvested kelp from the ocean and used it to produce acetone, a key component in the production of cordite – a nitroglycerin-based smokeless gunpowder.  The cordite was exported to Great Britain which needed it to meet their munitions needs during World War I.   

The students  were tasked with recording the locations of building foundations and other remnants of the Hercules Powder Company’s plant, as well as pinpointing the site where the plant’s 156 redwood “digestive” tanks once stood.  Each of the tanks measured 25 feet in diameter by 15 feet tall and had a storage capacity of about 50,000 gallons.  Harvested kelp was fermented in the tanks to produce acetone and other byproducts such as potash.  According to Tony McKinney, the GIS Division Chief for the Service’s Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, “the students relied on old maps, current aerial photographs, and structural remains in the field, to determine the tank locations.”  Information collected by the 4-H students will assist the Refuge in developing interpretive materials so the public can learn about the site’s important role in World War I.

Observes Esther Worker, ESRI’s Youth Program Manager for the Education Industry, “We have worked with the national 4-H GIS Leadership Team and Equipo GIS, its international section, for nearly 5 years.  The presentations they have made at our user conferences detailing the projects completed with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are a highlight for our conference attendees and clearly demonstrate the interest and abilities of our youth in solving geo-spatial problems.”

Commented Fatima Murillo, a 4-H student from Tennessee, “What struck me as the neatest aspect of our project was the fact that we were bringing a no longer existent facility from 1916 back to life by taking note of its former existence.  It was really cool to see the foundation, the pier, and the scattered remains of the machinery used decades ago.  I enjoyed contributing my time and collecting data with a GPS receiver and ESRI software to record this part of history.”

For the students assigned to the South San Diego Bay Unit of the refuge, their work project involved the mapping of a future birding trail; and delineating the boundary of the wetland around an existing salt pond, based on their evaluation of soils and plant life.  Data collected by the students will be used by the refuge for future trail planning and developing plans to restore the salt pond to natural tidal influence.  While on the refuge, the students enjoyed the sights and sounds of the south bay’s seabird nesting colony, where thousands of ground nesting seabirds, representing seven different species, annually raise their young on nearby salt pond levees.

In conjunction with the students’ work on Tijuana Slough Refuge recording the location of post and cable fencing and identifying sensitive plants, they also learned about the refuge’s population of light-footed clapper rails, an endangered bird.  After completing the field work and enjoying some pizza, the students assembled in the refuge office to download their data and begin the task of creating maps and shape files.  Slader Buck, Deputy Project Leader for the refuge complex, commented “the enthusiasm expressed by these students for the work they are doing and for its contribution to the Refuge is incredible.  We look forward to hosting the 4-H Leadership Team again in future years.”

Once all the work was completed, the students presented the results of their projects at ESRI’s EdUC.

About 4-H

4-H is a community of six million young people across America learning leadership, citizenship, and life skills. National 4-H Council is the private sector, non-profit partner of National 4-H Headquarters (USDA). The 4-H programs are implemented by the 106 Land Grant Universities and the Cooperative Extension System through their 3,100 local Extension offices across the country. Learn more about 4-H at www. 4-H.org.

About ESRI

ESRI has developed GIS software since 1969. It is used in more than 300,000 organizations and provides the backbone for worldwide mapping and spatial analysis. Visit ESRI at www. esri.com .


Contact Info: jane hendron, , jane_hendron@fws.gov



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