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Data-Driven Justification for Decision Making

The US Forest Service’s (USFS) Planning, Inventory, and Monitoring System (PIMS) is a systematic, informed, workflow through which forest managers plan, implement and monitor forest management actions. The basic concept of PIMS is that data should be readily discoverable. That way, users can quickly access and analyze the data that’s meaningful for the task at hand. That includes whether it is spatial and non-spatial, structured and unstructured. This means both having the spatial data for the area of interest together with the most relevant topical datasets. Xentity’s subcontractor Critigen on the geospatial contract assisted the USFS with one of its “central challenges” as an organization. That challenge was transparent, data-driven justification for decision making.

Improving Efficiency in Data Evaluation

The Forest Service Environmental Analysis and Decision Making (EADM) improvement effort intends to reduce the amount of time agency personnel spent in conducting NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) environmental analyses. That way, they can devote more time into performing work on the ground. The considerable time spent looking for and evaluating data needed to conduct environmental analyses for a specific area of interest is one of the more frequent complaints from the field. This includes forest planning or project level NEPA activities.

The agency has been complying with NEPA requirements for decades. However, NEPA workflows need updating. They are based on legacy data architectures. They do not leverage new capabilities of improving geospatial technologies. This often results in a large, unmanageable, unorganized pile of data. This creates the challenge to understand the relevance of these datasets, relative to specific land management and NEPA decisions. The agency also wants to understand of the amount of work that is authorized with each decision. Also whether they implement the work. The goal is that the Forest Service can use PIMS to justify NEPA decisions more thoroughly, transparently and efficiently.

To accomplish this, Xentity performed a ‘manual walk-through’ using the proposed functionality of PIMS with Salmon-Challis National Forest (S-C NF) data. It was ‘manual’ because we did the work via interactive ArcGIS sessions, not writing any scripts. We created a project geodatabase containing all relevant data. Xentity conducted an ArcGIS Pro Demo that was similar to the manual walkthrough, but also included unstructured data. Finally, Xentity helped develop an ArcGIS Spatial Display of locations and activities. Authorization and implementation of these locations and activities occurred during the past 10 years on the S-C NF.

Better Organized Past Data and a Documented Data-Driven Workflow

Through the use of this PIMS workflow, the USFS has now better organized its past data on specific land management and NEPA decisions. They can organize and document past S-C NF activities and projects with the ArcGIS spatial display developed. And finally, the USFS now has a documented, improved data-driven workflow for NEPA-related decisions. Due to the vastness of information in this day and age, having an organized, data-driven workflow that organizes important projects and decisions is a must for any organization, something Xentity was happy to help with.