Cartography How to – Trees! (Part 3)

By Jonah Adkins, GISP

Part Three: Symbolizing Vegetation Data

Using the samples of vegetation in maps from part one, and the newly gathered and created data from part two, we can now display the data within the map using symbology. Part three will focus on using multiple versions of the vegetation to create a pleasing look for your map.

In this example, the map is using a background color (tan) for the land and a transparent hillshade on top of that. There are two background vegetation layers you can choose to add; vegetation polygon areas or the Land Cover raster from part two. If using the Land Cover raster, create a unique value renderer using the classes 41, 42, and 43, under the symbology tab, to show only the vegetation classes. For this example, generalized vegetation polygons will be used, and in either case, try “Moss Green” for the color (RGB: 114 137 68). This darker green color will go above the background land layer and will be muted by the transparent hillshade layer above it.

Next, add the point layer created in part two. Navigate to the layer properties, symbology tab, and select a unique value renderer based off of the random value numeric field. Creating separate tree point symbols will give the appearance of a forested area on your map. For this example, two tree symbols were created using character marker symbols 110 and 113 from the “ESRI Enviro Hazard Analysis” symbol set.

Character marker symbology properties

Character marker symbology properties

Symbol 110 is using a light olive color (RGB: 173 185 83) at size 8, and symbol 113 is using a dark olive color (RGB: 133 149 52) at size 6. Both symbols have a shadow effect created by duplicating the symbol, and assigning an offset (x = 1, y = -1) using “Gray 50%” as the color. The shadow combined with the differing sizes and colors provide great contrast for the trees and create a nice pop effect on the map.

By putting together all of the information from this how-to, you can create a unique and eye-catching vegetation layer for your map. Combining or modifying past representations from part one with new techniques from part two and three should provide you with a solid base for creating a style customized to the story of your map. Included below are some more variations of the same techniques described above being used in different ways.


Example of tree points - "The Geography of Illinoise" (excerpt) Jonah Adkins, 2012 (c)

Example of tree points – “The Geography of Illinoise” (excerpt) Jonah Adkins, 2012 (c)

The above image is an excerpt from the sample data I used for this instruction. Of course, this is just one way to represent vegetation, and with cartography there are always many ways to accomplish the same goal.

Example of tree points - "The World Famous Jungle Cruise" (excerpt) Jonah Adkins, 2012 (c)

Example of tree points – “The World Famous Jungle Cruise” (excerpt) Jonah Adkins, 2012 (c)

The above example uses three varying sizes and one color of tree symbol from the “ESRI US Forestry” character marker symbol set. The background vegetation is solid color symbology from the polygon layer.

Example of tree points - "Wilson's Creek Battlefield Tour" (excerpt) Jonah Adkins, 2012 (c)

Example of tree points – “Wilson’s Creek Battlefield Tour” (excerpt) Jonah Adkins, 2012 (c)

The above example uses the Land Cover raster as a transparent background. The tree symbols are three varying sizes and types, but they use hollow architectural style symbols from the “ESRI US Forestry” character marker symbol set vice filled symbols.

Example of tree points - "Greetings from the Island" (excerpt) Jonah Adkins, 2012 (c)

Example of tree points – “Greetings from the Island” (excerpt) Jonah Adkins, 2012 (c)

The above example uses three varying sizes and one color of tree stamp style symbol from the “ESRI US Forestry” character marker symbol set. The background vegetation is solid color symbology from the polygon layer.

Questions and Comments can be directed towards the author of this article Jonah Adkins.





Cartography How to – Trees! (Part 2)

By Jonah Adkins, GISP

Part Two: Gathering and Preparing Vegetation Data

There are several types of vegetation data available to most map creators. These can range from highly desirable tree inventory points and remotely sensed polygonal areas from local high resolution imagery to varying scales of polygonal data digitized from state or national imagery sets. This section will focus on gathering free vegetation layers from national sources and preparing it for symbolization in a map.

If you have existing high resolution imagery, Esri has published a great instruction on creating vegetation polygons from 4-Band imagery. You can also use standard 3-Band imagery, but the results will be less accurate.

Within the United States and some outlying areas, the most recognized place for free vegetation data is the National Land Cover Database[1]. This data is available at 30 meter resolution for the years 1992, 2001, and most recently, 2006. The two easiest and interactive methods to get this data for a specific area are through either the USGS National Map or the NRCS Geospatial Data Gateway.

For both sources, the data is delivered in a raster format and is classified into 20 themes ranging from urban and water to crop and vegetation, among others. The classes you will want to isolate are 41, 42, and 43.

Below are the class definitions from the USGS site:[2]

  • 41. Deciduous Forest – Areas dominated by trees where 75 percent or more of the tree species shed foliage simultaneously in response to seasonal change.
  • 42. Evergreen Forest – Areas dominated by trees where 75 percent or more of the tree species `maintain their leaves all year. Canopy is never without green foliage.
  • 43. Mixed Forest – Areas dominated by trees where neither deciduous nor evergreen species represent more than 75 percent of the cover present.

Land Cover data with vegetation classes selected and the raster to polygon tool.


To convert the vegetation data, select the values 41, 42, and 43 from the raster attribute table within the Land Cover raster. The Raster to Polygon tool (ArcToolbox, Conversion Tools, From Raster) will convert the selected values to a polygon layer. There will be many parts with an area of a few cells or less, so depending on your use of the data, you will want to delete these. For this example, the output map scale is larger than 1:150,000; therefore the majority of small areas will be deleted. Use the Identify tool on several polygons to determine a threshold value. Perform an attribute query on the “shape.area” field using your desired value, and then delete the selected features in an Edit Session.

Before and after views of deleting small areas from vegetation polygons.

Before and after views of deleting small areas from vegetation polygons.


With a final version of the polygon layer, use the Randomize Points Tool (Data Management Tools > Feature Class > Create Random Points) to create a layer of randomly generated points. It should be noted that this method does not represent actual tree points, but creates points located within the polygon boundaries. With the tool open, specify an output location, a name for the new point feature class, and the constraining feature class; this will be polygon layer created in the previous steps. Number of Points allows you to specify how many random points you would like in each polygon, and Minimum Allowed Distance picks the minimum spacing between the random points in the polygon. For the example shown, Number of points was set to 50, and 500 meters was the Minimum Allowed Distance used. Further tweaking of these two inputs will be needed depending on your use.

 create random points tool (right) and the output result (left)

create random points tool (right) and the output result (left)

Finally, to allow you to create unique symbology in Part three, assign random values to the newly created random points. With the attribute table open, add a numeric field using the attribute table menu button, and select “Add Field”. Right click on the new field and open the Field Calculator. Enter either of the following code samples depending on the language you are using to create a random integer between 0 and 2:

  • Python – arcgis.rand(“Integer 0 2”)
  • VB Script – Int ( 2 )*Rnd

There are several other methods to refine the polygon data; Aggregate Polygons will merge adjacent polygons at a specified distance, and the Simplify and Smooth Polygon tools will improve shape of polygon features. Part three will focus on bringing these layers into your map and choosing the most cartographically pleasing method for display.

Wendy’s Works with GISi to Implement Location Technology

In collaboration with GISi, Wendy’s is integrating location analytics into its core business practices to drive greater efficiencies and better decision-making. Wendy’s is using Esri technologies and data to enhance their reporting analysis capabilities, while also directly integrating critical business systems with their location technology platform.   Wendy’s ability to visualize business data and information from multiple data sources through a spatial lens enables them to make better business decisions.

“Wendy’s is breaking new ground in the utilization of geographic data and spatial analytics.  Their forward-looking and innovative approaches will result in more successful franchisees and better served customers,” says Keith King, General Manager for GISi’s Private Sector Group. “Wendy’s is a great customer and partner.  It is a pleasure working with them to integrate and revamp their business processes and systems around Esri’s location technology platform.”

For more information on how GISi uses location technology to empower retailers to make better business decisions, visit

About GISi

GISi is an award-winning location technology consulting firm located in Birmingham, Ala., with offices throughout the United States.  GISi has a passion for delivering customer driven location technology solutions to federal, state and local governments, and commercial organizations.

For more information about GISi, please visit

Cartography How to – Trees!

By Jonah Adkins, GISP

In the process of creating a cartographic product, there are several layers one must show to give the viewer an idea of the landscape. Boundaries of land and bodies of water provide the background for which to add layers. Next, roads, topography, and vegetation provide the viewer with physical barriers and points of reference. In this article I’ll share some techniques for adding vegetation data when you have none, leveraging your existing layers, and creating cartographically pleasing symbolization for your vegetation data, specifically trees.

Part One: Vegetation On Maps Through The Years

Before diving into vegetation data and symbology, let’s look at how showing vegetation has progressed through the years on maps. Typically on maps from ages past, vegetation, like other features, were shown pictorially or by combining traditional cartography with more illustrative elements.

JAdkins 2.1

Figure 1 – Library of Congress: Virginia / discovered and described by Captain John Smith, 1606; graven by William Hole

In the above example from 1606, the forested areas are represented by multiple types of illustrative trees. This map also features Rhumb lines, a topic previously discussed in “Cartography How To: Rhumb Lines” on the GISi blog in November of 2012.

Fast forward to the 1880’s, and probably one of the more recognizable map publications created in the U.S., the USGS Quad. Started in 1879 and kept in production until 1992, the 24,000 scale maps showed vegetated areas with filled polygonal areas.[1] This method was furthered in the 1960’s with the USGS Land Cover/Land Use mapping program. Advancements in Remote Sensing and a published land cover classification system (1976)[2] led to this technique being continued with the advent of GIS technology in the late eighties and early nineties. The wide use of digital mapping from satellite imagery or aerial photography made it simple for technicians to delineate areas of vegetation within polygons boundaries.

JAdkins 2.2

Figure 2- United States Geological Survey: Newport News North (excerpt), map id o37076a4, Published 1986

In the example above, polygonal views of vegetation areas are shown in green. This method is still widely used today for web applications and traditional maps of large areas, mostly due to the free availability of land cover and land use data from the USGS.

Starting in the late nineties and 2000’s, GPS technology made it possible to locate any and every feature on the ground without the need for traditional land surveying tools. Tree inventories gained popularity among forestry and park professionals, most containing delineation of tree types, heights, and other identifying information.

JAdkins 2.3

Figure 3 – ArcGIS Online Topographic Basemap (Excerpt) Copyright Esri 2012

The above example, from the ArcGIS Online Topographic Basemap features a tree inventory on a university campus. Trees are shown by type, including varied symbology type, size, and color. This highly desirable method creates a detailed look at the area of interest.

In comparing Figure 1 and Figure3, both show vegetation as points at two different scales, and both map styles effectively work at showing the viewer vegetation. Figure 1 shows individual trees as a representation of large forested areas, a technique that will be shown in Part Three. All three examples shown above feature either point or polygon data. In Part Two, the focus will shift to gathering polygon data and creating point features from that data. With either dataset in your collection, you will be able to effectively and creatively show vegetation features on a map.

Integration through Location

Are you getting the most out of your GIS?

By: Joe Howell

How well are Oil and Gas companies leveraging their investment in GIS?  GIS uses database tables and layers to analyze how things relate to each other geographically and most companies barely scratch the surface of its potential.  The biggest gap in corporate vision for GIS that I have observed is the ability to use location to integrate otherwise non-related systems.  Oil and Gas companies have different systems to manage Leasehold, Wells, Drilling, Pipeline Integrity, and SCADA monitoring (among many others).  From the perspective of the database, there is no easy way to tie these systems together.  But all of the systems have something in common… LOCATION!

LocationIntegration1I have been in operations centers that have both digital and paper maps for visualizing these assets.  The striking thing is that in virtually every case, they only use these tools for visualizing.  They don’t use the location information to tie the systems together digitally, they depend on manual efforts to examine the map and determine the relationship.  So what’s wrong with that?  It’s expensive and it entirely underutilizes the investment already made in building a GIS system.  Most energy companies use the ArcGIS suite by ESRI.  They spend thousands on desktop software and hundreds of thousands on servers and server software just to give them access to spatial analysis tools.  This is a large investment, and it is one that provides a lot of value.  The question is can it do more?  And the answer is ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, YES IT CAN!

When was the last time you pulled out a paper map to get directions?  If you are like me, it has been several years.  Why?  Because you can go to (or bing or yahoo or…) and ask the computer to give you directions.  (Or better yet, have your phone or navigation computer handle it.)   Now when you pull up that map, do you go through it visually to figure out each turn?  Of course not… the application does it for you. Well there is no relationship between you and your destination, so how does the computer figure it out?  It uses GIS, of course.

Geography can be used to figure out the relationship between the meter and the lease, distance between valves (along the pipeline, as the crow flies, or driving), or even to find the nearest maintenance personnel for the compressor that is having issues. GIS really enables some out of the box thinking.  Virtually everything we do in this industry can be tied together with location.


Using location as an analysis tool isn’t limited to just proximity, density, or how things are connected in a network.  I recently worked on a tool that would allow executives use a sliding scale to see aggregated lease expiration by county across the entire nation.  Another project uses GIS to demonstrate percent of MAOP across pipelines based on SCADA information real time.  The operations center sees a data driven map interface which changes color and brings up a table and chart when threshold values are exceeded.  Geography can be a useful Business Intelligence tool to show how key performance indicators are impacting business.  Here are a few examples:

  • Production profitability by state and county or section.
  •  Evaluation and reporting of high consequence areas.
  • Comparison of lease expenditure and production or transport cost
  • Weather forecasting against drilling schedule
  • Lease expiration forecasting
  • Pipeline inspection and maintenance scheduling
  • Encroachment trends
  • Construction routing and cost estimation
  • Geologists can outline plays and direct leasing efforts
  • Coordination of leasehold and right of way acquisition between brokers

These are all location based processes that can help increase profitability.    The possibilities are limited only by our ability to find ways to examine and deliver the data.  As I said before, In the Oil and Gas industry, location is a part of just about every question.  Shouldn’t it be part of every answer?

Location – The Tie that Binds

As an executive, how hard is it for you to get a complete view of what is really happening in all parts of your enterprise?  Is the information you receive fragmented?  Out of date?  Do you have multiple versions of the “truth”?  Can you spot trends?  Would you like to wake up in the morning and use your iPad to review KPI’s?  Can you can make timely decisions about your business with confidence?

In other words, are you getting the information you need, in the format you need, when and where you need it?

Organizations have worked for years to tear down information silos, but challenges remain.  If this is the case for you, consider utilizing geography as an integrating platform to organize, analyze, visualize, and share your enterprise data assets.

Spatial, or location information is contained in much business data.  For example, wouldn’t it be great to integrate and visualize:

  • Customer addresses and disaster event data
  • Supply chain requirements with weather and traffic data
  • Point of sale and demographic data
  • Indoor customer mobility patterns with product placement and customer demographic data
  • Regulatory compliance requirements with housing loans history
  • Store location and crime data
  • Location of related Tweets to marketing campaign actions
  • Asset information and maintenance compliance performance
  • The list goes on.

My point…… It makes good sense to utilize geography as an integration strategy because location is often the common denominator across disparate data assets and systems.  Once these items are integrated and organized around location, the next logical step is to use spatial technology to analyze, visualize, and share the data.

Esri, a company who has been building Geographic Information Systems (GIS) since the late 60’s has developed an entire technology stack for utilizing geography as an enterprise platform.  Wiring-up CRM’s, ERP’s, Data Warehouses, and other operational business systems to a geographic platform is not as hard as you might think.  If you want, you can start with small investments in technology and services and quickly develop new and powerful ways of running your business.

The trends are clear.  It will be common place for organizations to have specialized spatial analytics divisions.  Interactive maps will be a standard part of the executive’s BI dashboard.  Geographic platforms are increasingly being recognized as good options for dealing with Big Data, predictive analytics, risk analysis, and data from mobile devices, to name a few.  Geography is also a great platform to use for providing value added services for your customers.  Put simply, maps serve as a common language for effectively communicating complex ideas.

Geography as a technology platform is a game-changer that delivers a distinct competitive advantage.

Don’t get left behind.

Keith is the General Manager for GISi’s Private Sector Group.  Please contact him at or 205-941-0442 x159 with questions or comments.

GIS Day at Green Valley Elementary School (Hoover, AL)

Third grade in the Hoover school system is when children start to deep dive into geography. It’s a fun age to start getting them excited about maps.

I have two children in elementary school; one in first grade and one in the third grade. Each week the school sends home graded tests so I can see what they have been learning from week to week. I noticed early on this year that my son, who is the third grader, gets tested every week on geography. They cover basic elements of maps and answer questions using scale bars and legends. I knew when I saw this that I had to give his class a presentation on maps and how we make them.

One of the biggest challenges I thought I would face is the initial introduction explaining what GIS day is. I’ve got to say though that the students picked it up very quickly and were very excited to learn more about maps. The way I started my presentation was to ask the children to raise their hands if they have ever heard of Mother’s Day. Of course, every student raised their hand. I then asked if they have ever heard of Thanksgiving Day and again they all raised their hands. I followed this up by asking if they had ever heard of GIS day, and only one student raised their hand, but when asked what GIS was, they didn’t know. So with that I told them that GIS stood for Geographic Information Systems and asked when they heard geographic what they thought it meant. They all quickly associated it with their daily geography and told me it probably had to do with maps. “The Information Systems part of GIS”, I told them, “is just the equipment, people, and data that make maps”. I also explained that GIS day is a way for people that work with maps to share what they know with other people.

My presentation covered what maps are, what they can be used for, different parts of a map, different types of maps, and how we make maps. Since they have been learning about maps the first few sections of my presentation they all picked up on very quickly. They knew that maps were drawings of places, but were interested in the fact that it could be a drawing of any place, even small areas like their bedroom. I told them they could make a drawing of a room and draw where their bed is, their closet, toy box, etc. and people who had never been in their room could easily find everything. I also explained that maps don’t have to be just places where people could go, they could also be things like a map of a brain that doctors could use when doing surgery so that they know exactly what part of the brain to work on.

The next topic was what we can use maps for. I had a simple map to show the kids and explained that we could use maps to find where things are, find out how to go from one place to another, and to answer questions. We spent some time on the map and located things like where the campground was or where the lake was. We then used the map to figure out how to get to different places like from the campground to the mountains or lake. Finally we answered questions like how many different type of trees are there and how many different areas do the butterflies live in. Here is the map that I used to cover what maps can be used for:

Once the kids had a good understanding of what a map could be used for we covered the different parts of a map.  The parts of a map that I covered were legends, scale bar, north arrow, title, neatline, and color. From their daily geography they all knew what a legend, scale bar, north arrow and title were, but the last two they hadn’t learned yet. I have to say that of all of the parts of a map, the kids really liked the neatline. I think it was just the name that they liked, but we spent quite a bit of time talking about it. We also talked at length about color choices for maps. They are at the age where they are particular about how they color drawings. My son for example won’t color the sky anything other than blue and the grass anything other than green, so when I was asking the students what colors they would use for the ocean, or the ground, or roads, they all picked up that colors should be chosen that would be easy for the person reading the map to understand.

The next topic I covered was the three main types of maps; political, thematic, and physical. The kids really liked this section. I showed them a few examples of each type of map and we tried to answer questions about each one. The class has a number of different political maps and physical maps hanging on the walls so they were quick to point out various things on those maps, but the thematic maps we spent the most time on because they hadn’t seen maps like that before. The one that I showed them that was the most interesting to them was the map showing election results. They all had participated in mock elections the week prior, so they found it really interesting to see which states voted for each candidate.

The one topic I wasn’t sure if they would understand very well was the last one covering how we make maps. I wanted to show the kids some of the common tools used to make maps and keep it at a level that they could understand. We first covered making maps by hand. For this example I showed the same map I used earlier to answer questions about maps (above). The next thing covered was making maps using the Sun and stars. I showed them a map made by Amerigo Vespucci and explained that back when Christopher Columbus discovered North America people would navigate their ships by using stars and the position of the Sun and would follow the coast drawing what they saw on a map. I pointed to the map that Amerigo made and then to the world map the kids had in their classroom to show them the difference between accuracy from then to now. We then covered some of the newer methods like GPS, imagery, LIDAR, and RADAR. With GPS I showed them a picture of the satellites all around the world and explained that it is what cell phones and car navigation use to know where they are and that we use devices that look like cell phones where we can use GPS to actually collect information to use in maps. The imagery I showed them a picture of a plane with a camera on it and showed them some imagery. I also showed them an example of image resolution. Both LIDAR and RADAR I just briefly covered basically comparing LIDAR to using a laser pointer which gives accurate pictures of height and RADAR using radio signals which is used to map weather like rain and clouds.

The last part of my presentation I digitized some features for a map. I used an image of the school and showed them that if they like tracing pictures they would like making maps. We drew the roads, the school, the playground area, and the track. After we drew them we gave them good colors that made sense for the map, and labeled the features.  I ran out of time at the end so we couldn’t do as much with their school as I wanted to, but they really enjoyed the time we did spend on it.

I ended the day by handing out Birmingham area street maps that the local AAA donated for the kids. We didn’t have enough time to open them up and look at them, but they were all very excited to get their own map and the class is going to start using them as part of their daily geography lessons.

A couple of days later my son brought home a book that the class made with thank you notes from the kids. I want to share some of them here to show what they really enjoyed about the presentation.

“I really enjoyed the part about everything”

“I liked learning about the maps. Thank you for the maps.”

“Thanks for the map.”

“I really enjoyed the part about political maps, legend, physical maps, and neatline.”

“I liked the part when you talked about map color and the neatline.”

“I really enjoyed the part about political maps. It was really good.”

“Map legends are cool because it is a helper that helps you.”

“I really enjoyed the part about neatline, physical map, and color. Thank you for giving the map I loved it.”

“I really enjoyed the part about presidential map because I like to hear about how many votes they have and to see how many states they have.”

“I really enjoyed the part about GPSes.”

Overall I found that this GIS Day presentation was a great experience and it was fun to get young kids energized about maps. I plan on coming back to my son’s class again this year to teach them some more about maps and GIS and I’m planning on presenting to a larger crowed at Green Valley next year for GIS Day.