Plug IN to The OUTdoors!

When Technology Complements Nature & Brings it Closer

Tall whispering pines. Hushed breezes through tall grasses. Undisturbed woodland vistas. Solitude. The beauty of being by oneself in the forest, in the midst of a meadow, or on a riverbank – disconnected. It sounds fantastic, but take a moment to pause and widen the lens with which you are examining this scene. How did you decide which natural area to visit today – was it by doing a Google search or were you inspired by an image you saw on Instagram? What about how you got to where you were going – did you know the route, or did you have to use your GPS? Even when seeking communion with the outdoors in the purest sense, you will probably still snap a picture with your phone – (be it for memory’s sake or future Facebook fodder).  

Our everyday relationship with technology is changing at an exponential rate, and it is important to pause and evaluate how these developments are shaping ourselves and our society – for better or for worse. Now, nature in and of itself doesn’t need any improvements from technology – but  Wildlands is taking a long hard look at the way technology can enhance how we relate to, and work within, our watershed.

Looking Across the Landscape (and Taking a Picture)

A great example of how technology is woven into the fabric of our land trust is the use of aerial imaging.  Wildlands protects vast bands of land within and throughout the Lehigh River watershed, which extends from the headwaters in the Poconos all the way to Lehigh River’s confluence with the Delaware in Easton. Given the in-perpetuity aspect of our work (we’re in what we call the forever business!), we steward the natural areas we protect – be they forests, streams or wetlands. This tasks us to readily bring whole landscapes into view, monitoring for subtle changes in biodiversity, habitat, and the successful implementation of best management practices. Take technology out of the picture (see what we did there?) and we incur increase both man hours and sheer cost.

“Whether it’s measuring the extent of an insect infestation in the forest, monitoring for easement compliance or documenting forest regeneration, technology has expanded our stewardship capacity. More and more, Wildlands is employing this type of imaging in our management and stewardship responsibilities,” says Carl Martin, director of property stewardship at Wildlands.

Putting Conservation on the Map

Geographic Information System (or GIS) technology is another tool that has advanced in recent years and proven indispensable for our land trust.

“Technology like this streamlines our work and allows us to work

more effectively as protectors and stewards of the land”

Preserve manager Michael Hock speaks about the myriad ways GIS influences our work in the field:

“Many people don’t see the connections between conservation and technology, but these two are wholly intertwined. We use GIS technology to prioritize conservation efforts throughout our working landscape, while relying upon it to analyze many of the stewardship practices we enact on our properties. With so much land available to protect, GIS allows us to focus on the best conservation lands, those with healthy streams and wetlands, intact forests, and other connections to protected lands. Without these technologies and data, our land protection efforts can become scattered, inefficient, and often focused on areas that might not be as valuable to protect. Likewise, we utilize various GIS data to analyze our own properties to determine best practices for managing habitat, controlling invasive species, building and designing trails, and expanding public access. Technology like this streamlines our work and allows us to work more effectively as protectors and stewards of the land”

The work of charting and mapping trails to create public access alone (a daunting task, to say the least) can be just about cut in half simply by using newer GIS technology applications.

An App for Where You’re At

Trails, maintenance and habitat management are just a few of the ongoing projects aided by the application of new technologies in the

environmental field. In addition to science-heavy ventures helmed by Wildlands, we are also using technology to bridge the

gap between people and their knowledge of the natural world. The best way to do it? Meet them where they’re at! And with society increasingly connected to the world through their phones, the development of the Wildlands app made a whole lot of sense!

The app is available on all major platforms and is compatible with both Android and Apple products. Not only does it provide preserve trail maps, it also features directions (so you can actually make your next social-post connection), terrain descriptions, history, and even interactive points of interest to help visitors learn more about the ecology and environment right from where they’re standing. Wildlands is also finding creative ways to link the app to education programming. Treasured yearly events, such as Wild Eggs in the spring, use the app as a tool for sharing different activities spread across the property with points of fun plotted out along existing trails nestled within our Dorothy Rider Pool Wildlife Sanctuary in Emmaus.

With the promise to increase our number of nature preserves within the foreseeable future, Wildlands plans to remain front of new and exciting ways we can be smart about technology – to keep you plugged IN to the OUTdoors!