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Project Targets Gaps In Conservation Lands
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Whether hunting for turkey or a better way to manage forestland, a project underway at Mississippi State University can help.
The Mississippi Gap Analysis Program is collecting data to provide a complete picture of the state's natural resources. The program will provide a wealth of information on how to better manage Mississippi's natural resources.
"The `gap' in gap analysis refers to the project's goal of identifying the lapses in the network of conservation lands that help protect and nurture plant and animal species," said Francisco Vilella, Mississippi GAP principal investigator.
"GAP was founded (in 1987) on the premise that to keep common species from becoming endangered, we need to know where they are and where their habitats are," Vilella said. "We will provide that information to the organizations that work to fill the gaps through new wildlife reserves or changes in land management practices."
Gap analysis projects are underway in 43 states. Mississippi GAP is a cooperative venture of state, federal and private organizations and is administered through the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit of the Forest and Wildlife Research Center at MSU.
The four- to five-year project will gather information on Mississippi's natural resources from the USDA Forest Service, timber companies, organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and others.
"There's a tremendous amount of information already available in the state," said Mississippi GAP Coordinator Richard Minnis. "Our job is to bring it together, integrate it and make it accessible to the public."
The project will produce a series of maps of the entire state. The maps will show the types of vegetation in the state, animal habitat and the actual distribution of species.
The vegetation map is being produced by the Spatial Information Technology Laboratory at MSU from satellite images. David Evans, assistant professor of forestry at MSU, is directing map production.
"Investigators from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Department of Forestry at MSU are gathering data for on-site verification of the vegetation map being developed from satellite data," Evans said.
"We are very enthusiastic about the diversity of organizations that have expressed an interest in participating in the project," Minnis said. "We hope Mississippi will be an example of how various organizations can work together to accomplish long-term benefits for the environment."
A recent GAP cooperators meeting brought representatives of more than 30 government agencies and private companies to explain the objectives of the project and to gather input.
One of the participants at the meeting was Pete Leech, an environmental forester with Weyerhaeuser, a leading forest products company. The information provided by the project will help the company manage its forestland.
"We use an overall landscape approach to forest management and having detailed information from the GAP project will help us make better plans based on wildlife habitat and vegetation," Leech said. "The knowledge gained through GAP will help us better communicate to the public about forestry issues."
The Weyerhaeuser forester also noted that owners of small forest tracts will benefit from the maps showing the vegetation distribution and wildlife habitat on their land.
Others who will benefit from the information provided by the Mississippi GAP project include land use planners, outdoor enthusiasts and hunters.
"Natural resource managers can use the project's data to ensure that all species retain healthy, viable populations," Minnis said. "Hunters can use the habitat maps to locate areas with the best potential for wild game."
Other planned uses for the information gathered by Mississippi GAP include a study of black bear habitat in Mississippi and publication of a complete bird atlas for the state.