DNR website gets interactive
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The expression "information at the touch of a button" could have been coined for the newest feature on the Division of Natural Resources' website.
It's an interactive hunting and fishing map. With it, hunters and anglers can find public hunting land, sections of streams where trout are stocked, game-checking stations, public shooting ranges, handicap-access vehicle trails and dozens of other little goodies.
"This lets people know where things are," said Curtis Taylor, chief of the DNR's Wildlife Resources Section. "Right now in the state, you could go up to someone and ask where to find a certain wildlife management area or the nearest game-checking station, and chances are the person you ask won't have a clue. With this, people should be able to find things."
The combined hunting-and-fishing map takes the place of the DNR's previous attempt at interactive technology, an interactive trout-stocking map that had been in place since 2008.
"The old one only dealt with trout fishing," said Art Shomo, one of the new map's designers. "This one added fishing for warm-water species, plus all the hunting-related features."
The new map makes use of the Geographic Information System, which takes computerized information about locations on the ground and puts that information on maps.
The new map, for example, starts off looking like a low-resolution topographic overview of the mid-Atlantic region. A zoom feature allows the user to home in on the state, and then on specific counties or areas. The farther the user zooms in, the higher the resolution becomes.
When the zoom reaches a certain level, the screen transforms into a functional topographic map, complete with contour lines and shaded topography, giving the user insight into the lay of the land.
But that's not all.
As local features pop up, so do symbols for boat-launching ramps, shooting ranges, hunting- and fishing-license agents, game-checking stations, trails, camping areas and other amenities. Clicking on the symbols opens hidden information boxes. For example, clicking on a symbol for a game-checking station reveals the station's name, its location and its phone number.
Clicking on a wildlife management area reveals its acreage, the animal species available for hunting and trapping, and any amenities it might offer.
Clicking on the highlighted area of a trout stream reveals the length of the stocked section, how often it is stocked, and lists any special regulations that might be in effect. Clicking on a fishing-access symbol tells whether it's a pier or a ramp, and tells whether the ramp is paved or unpaved.
"And one of the great things about the map is that you don't have to back out of it in order to switch from the hunting part to the fishing part," Shomo said. "All you have to do is click on the 'fishing' or 'hunting' tab at the top of the page, and you get switched to the other map at the same level of resolution."
Alicia Mein, who coordinated the project for the DNR, said a sizable amount of the data on the new maps had been in the agency's computers for quite some time.
"A lot of [the data] was intended for use in other projects," she explained. "Our job was to improve the data, make sure it was up to date, and make sure the attributes we attached to the map's features were accurate. A lot of stuff had to be updated and reviewed."
Programmers at West Virginia University's GIS Technical Center helped to integrate the accumulated information into a coherent final product.
"They have programmers in specialties that agencies like the DNR can't afford, so we turned to them for help," Mein said. "They did a great job and were easy to work with. Really, [the maps are] a compilation of work by a lot of people - biologists, wildlife managers and programmers as well as data and mapping technicians."
Mein said the computerized maps have a decided advantage over paper maps in that they can be updated easily and regularly.
"And new features can be added as they're needed," she said.
New features might come with a bit of a price, though. The maps, as currently designed and configured, represent an enormous amount of computer data, so much in fact that users with dial-up Internet connections might find the maps frustratingly slow to use.
"The maps work best when users have high-speed Internet connections," Shomo said.
"With all the detail we have on the maps, it can take a while for the screens to rewrite themselves. It's also not very friendly for people who use mobile devices, and that's something we need to work on."
Taylor said he looks forward to the day when mobile-device users can access the site as easily as computer users.
"We want this thing to be as user-friendly as possible," he said. "We want people, no matter where they are around the country, to be able to go to these maps and say, 'Wow, look at all the hunting and fishing that's available in West Virginia. We need to go there.'"
The maps can be accessed at the DNR website, www.wvdnr.gov, by clicking on the highlighted "Hunting Map" link in the Hunting section, or the "Fishing Map" link in the Fishing section.
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.