GIS? What’s GIS?

 —  24/08/2009

Kia ora all,

Today I’m going to tell you about GIS, what it is, and how we use it here at the Department of Conservation. I imagine at this point, you’re probably wondering “What on earth is GIS?”. Simply put, most of planet Earth that you see or reference without the naked eye – physical Maps, GPS navigation, Google MapsEarth etc – you are seeing these because of GIS.

GIS? What's GIS?

GIS stands for Geospatial Information Systems. So Geospatial information is data which is in reference to a geographic location. If you’re thinking ‘Maps’, then you’re on the right track.

Maps are made with GIS data. All the sweet functions you see over the top of Google Maps – overlays of where you find restaurants and cinemas and the like – are brought to you by – you guessed it – GIS data. We can forget the restaurants and cinemas for now though. We want you to be able to find out about what can be found where, on our public conservation land.

Almost 90% of the data we collect at DOC has a geospatial aspect to it – and we collect a LOT of data. We have GIS specialists all over New Zealand, based at each of our Conservancy offices. These guys and gals gather data from our GPS-toting ground-staff (like our awesome Rangers) and then feed this into their local databases, which is eventually reflected in our national system.

Visitors using traditional maps.

Still with me?

DOC’s GIS database is one way that we can view and analyse our data in a meaningful way. This is something we provide to everyone (aka all you New Zealanders), via the DOCgis interactive maps on our website.

Other ways to view our data that may be more tangible to you are through websites like These guys provide all sorts of spatial information, and lately we’ve handed over the GIS info of all of our tracks, and layers of all the land we manage on behalf of all New Zealanders. You can check these maps out and add the layers yourself, so you can see exactly where National Parks begin and end, and the precise locations of the tracks that you can get out there and use.

If you’ve successfully followed my rambles, I think that you’ll agree that this stuff is pretty choice, but it’s only going to get better as far as you’re concerned. We’re currently standardising the way that we use GIS data, and the upshot of this is that soon our data will be able to be used by more people in many more ways.

GPS with an iphoneImagine you’re going hunting in the backcountry somewhere: You want to go and find some thar, or some deer. Or maybe you’re just off on a mission into the bush to find some of our special native wildlife. If you take a flash phone with a broadband connection – like an iphone for instance – then you’ll be able to find out all sorts of information while you’re out there: The locations and boundaries of public conservation lands and tracks, where DOC is doing pest control, where the Animal Health Board is doing pest control, the concentration of a particular species of flora or fauna. This stuff might just help you find the closest hut, that elusive Saddleback, or just how to get back to the track you were previously hiking.

These are the sorts of things we’re envisaging for the future at DOC. We reckon it’s pretty exciting, and hopefully you do too. We really want New Zealanders to get involved in earnest, and you’ll be pleased to know that the headway we’re making with GIS technology will help you get there. Please ask us any questions you may have. Once (if) you do, I’ll have a chat to the experts and return with the answers. If there’s enough interest, then the next post I write may get a bit deeper into GIS at DOC.


One response to GIS? What’s GIS?

    Honora Renwick 26/08/2009 at 7:02 pm

    Not sure how long this blog will last until the new budget gives it the chop but here goes…I hope that DoC will be able to incorporate validated GPS-derived data from the public into their GIS data. Some of those tracks on your data sets are very wrong i.e. on the totally wrong side of rivers etc. At the moment they are pretty much useless, and only serve to indicate that yes, there are tracks around that area. Good to see that non-DoC cut and maintained tracks are included that the NZFS etc. cut and which have been saved by the public’s stepping forward.