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Wetlands Interactive Mapper

Delivering Digital Wetlands Data Using a
Web-Based Browser-Driven Mapper

By Bill O. Wilen, Ph.D. and Deb Southworth
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Servic

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wetlands Inventory has made digital wetlands data for one million square miles of the surface of the conterminous United States viewable over the internet through the Wetlands Interactive Mapper.  It is a web-based, browser-driven system that allows anyone with an internet connection to:  1) view digital wetlands data, 2) conduct basic processing (e.g., zoom, pan, identify, etc.), and 3) print custom maps and acreage reports on their desktop color printers.  The map display includes a tool bar with processing operations, message box, map coordinate display, map scale display, legend, and help button.  There is also a link to the Microsoft Terraserver, which allows the user to view an aerial photograph or a U.S. Geological Survey map for the area displayed.  The mapper is available on the National Wetlands Inventory web site at http://wetlands.fws.gov.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey are agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Value of Wetlands

Wetlands are the cornerstones of many important and complex ecosystems that provide countless benefits for fish, wildlife, and people.  They are living filters that help purify our nation's waters. Marshes, swamps, and bogs serve as water storage basins that help lower the magnitude and frequency of floods.  Wetlands provide critical habitat for the survival of a major portion of the migratory and resident fish and wildlife of the nation.  Many common and rare species use wetlands for food, water, cover, or reproduction.

Engaging the Public

The need for digital data that identifies potential environmental conflicts and tracks natural resource trends is growing rapidly.  Maintaining wetlands and other natural resources is a quality of life issue.  Livability starts with healthy ecosystems.  Maintaining healthy ecosystems requires sound planning and management, as well as the support and understanding of the citizenry.  With improved access to wetland information, they can better understand these systems and become involved in identifying and voicing enlightened opinions on community issues and policies involving these important habitats.  By putting more information into the hands of the public, they can exercise their decision-making power to maintain or improve the livability of their communities.

Wetlands Interactive Mapper

Currently, the Internet connected public can view digital wetlands data, produce a custom map, and print the map along with an acreage summary on their desktop color printer.  The mapper allows them to make wetland maps of their county, city, town, and, most importantly, their neighborhood.  The mapper is part of the Service's Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS), an ongoing project to make environmental data available on the web.

Making A Map

The mapper is initiated by typing in a county name, city name, zip code, or the name of a Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge.  The map display includes wetlands, streams, and roads.  The user can add railroads or refuge boundaries to the display.  Spatial processing buttons allow the user to zoom in to an area of interest.  As the user zooms in, more map detail is provided.  The wetlands legend also changes to provide additional information concerning the different types of the wetlands.  Zooming out results in doubling the spatial area of the map.  The Identify tool allows the user to identify not only the classification of individual wetlands, but also the names of roads and streams.  The results from the identification search appear in the expandable query and results frame below the map.  This frame is entitled "Map Utilities."  Most of the processing features work on a point and click basis.  More advanced users can use the download icon to transfer spatial themes for use in geographic information systems.

Printing a Map and Acreage Report

Once the desired map is displayed on a screen, the map can be formatted for printing by clicking on that option in the Map Utilities frame below the map.  When the link is made, a new window will open containing the desired map and legend.  It can be printed by selecting File/Print from the menu.  The map can be printed with either a portrait or landscape orientation.  Wetland acreage summaries for the map can be generated by general type, class, subclass, or full attribute.  This is accomplished by clicking on the desired level of detail below the title View Wetland Acreage Summaries.  When the desired level of detail is selected, a new window will open.  The acreage summary will appear in the window.  The acreage report can also be printed.

Other Important Links

The Map Utilities frame has a link to the Microsoft Terraserver.  It allows the user to view an aerial photograph or United States Geological Survey map of the area.  The final link is to the National Wetlands Inventory's map status page.  This provides a link to graphics of digital wetlands data and access to the Wetland Maps Database through a search form.  This link is important because the wetland maps must be in a digital format to be viewable over the internet.  Digital wetlands data (see figure) is available for one million square miles of the surface of the conterminous United States.  Final maps for an additional million square mile area are awaiting to be digitized.  Funding for the existing digital data has been provided by 52 agencies and organizations including Federal, State, and county agencies; Native American Tribes; and such private sector organizations as Ducks Unlimited.


The interactive mapper is the beginning of web-based tools to provide the general public with a better geographic view of the wetlands near the places where they live.  It is becoming an effective way to provide the public with detailed environmental information about wetlands, important landscape features, and other conservation issues.  Readers can see which maps are digital and which ones are final at http://wetlands.fws.gov/status_map.htm

This article originated from: Intergovernmental Solutions Newsletter, Edition 8, Accessing Government Information, Federal News, March 2000.  It can be viewed at the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions web page, located at:  http://policyworks.gov/



The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: October 30, 2015
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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