As more layers continue to be added to the CHiRP (Community Habitat Resource Project) mapping feature, new possibilities for the technology are presenting themselves.
With a few clicks of a mouse, you can easily see the correlation between bird habitat and local wetlands, or the prevalence of different forest species at different altitudes around the valley.
You can click on fish icons to read about different Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group projects on various waterways, or the H.I.T. icons to see the work thats been completed by Whistler-Blackcombs Habitat Improvement Team.
You can also click on a growing number of Whistler Stories icons to read about areas of ecological, cultural or historical interest. The selection of stories and photographs already on the site includes big trees, waterfalls, bear encounters, First Nations pictographys and spawning Kokanees.
More layers are also being added in the coming months. Michael Allen is providing bear denning ecology information from the Whistler Black Bear Project; Wayne McCrory of the Whistler Bear Society is providing information on black bear travel corridors and possible bear/human conflict areas; Kerry Clark from the Whistler Museum and Archives is providing a list of cultural and historic sites; foresters John Hammons, Don MacLaurin and Peter Ackhurst are providing data on the fires, logging and bug infestations for the Whistler watershed going back to the arrival of the railroad in 1918; WORCA and the municipality will be providing information on local hiking and biking trails, with GPS information from the Whistler Bicycle Task Force.
In addition, a new movie tool is being added to the map that will be used to present decades of detailed glacier monitoring data that is being collected by the Whistler Naturalists, showing the impacts of climate change and other factors on the size and reach of glacier systems.
According to CHiRP co-ordinator Stéphane Perron, the more information thats included on the map, the more useful the CHiRP project will become for the community.
"Its a pretty powerful reference tool," he said. "I really think we can think of it as an encyclopedia of environmental information in Whistler, as well as a digital library and atlas. And it will slowly build, its one of those projects that will never be completed.
"Its not a complete picture yet, but its a growing reference. We just obtained Michael Allens data today on bear denning and population, and theres more stuff coming online all the time."
CHiRP is a partnership of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler Naturalists, WORCA, AWARE, Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, Whistler Bear Society, Cascade Environmental Research Group, Whistler Centre for Sustainability and Whistler-Blackcomb. All of these partners are contributing their collected environmental data to CHiRP, using the map as an interactive index to file, present and share that information with one another and the public.
Over time, the number of mapping layers will grow, as well as the library of information that goes with those layers.
For example, one layer currently shows where bird habitat is located in Whistler Valley. As information from the Whistler Naturalists bird counts is collected, that layer will be further refined to show Whistlers 10 distinct habitat zones and the 176 different bird species associated with them.
How you use that information is up to you.
Starting on Nov. 24, classes from Myrtle Philip Community School have been using the interactive map as part of a project called "Sense of Place: Mapping Your Community with CHiRP" with the Whistler Museum and Archives. Students are getting a demonstration on how the map works, using the map to locate their school, and contributing stories and digital photos of their favourite spots using the Whistler Stories tool.
"Working with CHiRP this year has enabled the museum to offer a program that not only teaches students about their community but involves them in it as well," said Jim Galvao, the co-ordinator of education and design services for the Whistler Museum and Archives. "We are planning to deliver the program to other local schools in the new year."
Almost anything that can be depicted on a map can be added as a layer on CHiRP, explained Perron.
"Nothing else in the community has all that information in one central repository," he said. "If you want to study local Kokanee salmon, well all the spawning data is on there and its in a much more accessible form than it ever was before. Before, it was a lot more challenging to find that kind of information, and you might have had to go to two, three, four different organizations."
Perron is putting together a user guide to help members of the community use CHiRPs mapping tools, as well as to share their own information on the Whistler Stories layer.
"What were afraid of is that people will have one bad experience and never go back. The thing is Ive been to a lot of these mapping sites, and not all of them do what theyre supposed to do, but ours is working and its pretty impressive.
"We want people to have good experiences on the site, and find ways to really use it, whether youre a conservationist looking to take on a land developer on an issue or someone who just wants to find out more about their valley."
The user guide, once complete, will be posted online explaining how to get to the map and use the different tools with only a few easy steps. There is also a "Help" key on the toolbar that explains how to use the navigation tools and the legend items to generate custom maps.
Funding is currently a challenge, with only a few thousand dollars in grants this year. Perron is hoping to secure funding for two or three years to continue to build the site.
"I think it could be that long before we see a really complete site," he said. "Its not like other community groups that can operate on a thousand bucks a year, there is technology and expertise involved. All that data takes time to acquire, and we still have a lot of stuff coming in, from geology stuff, to weather stuff to statistics about our wetlands its going to take a long time with the limited resources we have, and the current combination of paid and volunteer work going into this."
You can access the CHiRP site and map at www.chirpwhistler.info, and you can access the interactive map from the homepage.
Toolbar The top toolbar contains all the map navigation tools, including Zoom In, Zoom Out, Zoom to Full Extend, Pan (moving in any direction from the borders of the map), Measure (measuring distances between two points or along certain routes), Query (obtaining information about specific points on a map, including Whistler Stories), Print, Add Story, Comment and Help.
Using the Create a Story tool will be the most challenging, and you will need to register with the site first. Once you have a valid user name and password, you can add your story by clicking "Add", selecting an icon from the list (still under development), picking a location on the map, and filling in the blanks adding a title, your story and any photographs, movies or sound files that go with your piece.
Legend The CHiRP legend currently contains dozens of different layers, from hydro corridors to parks to elevation contours to satellite photography. Select the layers you wish to view by checking the boxes listed and click on the "Apply" button on the bottom of the Legend to generate a map with those layers showing. No software is required. All maps are generated on CHiRPs home server, then sent to you as a picture through your Web browser.