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CHiRP opts for federal partnership

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Natural Resources Canada to provide support for community mapping

The Whistler Community Habitat Resource Project, known as the CHRP or CHiRP, reached a crossroads recently when the members of participating organizations voted six-to-two in favour of a partnership with Natural Resources Canada.

While the decision will result in more outside technical and financial support for CHiRP, some members were concerned that the final product – an interactive, Internet-based map of Whistler and its habitat – won’t be as functional as was originally intended.

"It was a fairly big decision because we’re essentially setting the foundation for the project, and everyone was taking that quite seriously," said Stephane Perron, CHiRP Community Co-ordinator.

"It wasn’t apples and oranges, but more of a choice of two brands of apples. We had to assess our needs and what we wanted to do with this, and decided to go with the Natural Resources Canada partnership."

The NRC solution will mean that all habitat mapping in Whistler will be accomplished using an open source freeware program called MapServer. The program is constantly being improved and tweaked by the NRC, said Perron, but it lacks the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) capability and detail of the other option considered by CHiRP, a program called ArcGIS by ESRI, a U.S.-based mapping software company.

The goal is to create a map of Whistler that brings together all the different habitat information that has already been compiled by different community groups. The information supplied by those groups will be used to create map layers so visitors to the CHiRP Web site can find the information they need.

For example, the J.J. Whistler Black Bear Foundation is contributing information for a map layer that will show where human and black bear conflicts exist. The Whistler Fisheries Stewardship group is providing a compilation of different river classifications, and the Whistler Naturalists are providing information on bird habitats and glacier measurements. Whistler-Blackcomb is providing information on the different habitats on the mountains. WORCA is providing a map of mountain biking and hiking trails in town.

The map can be used by locals and visitors to learn more about Whistler habitats, and to explore their surroundings. Different user groups can also use the maps to determine what is known and what information gaps still exists, and overlay maps to get an idea of where different habitats overlap, and the different factors at play in the environment.

Although it won’t allow for as much interactivity and in-depth comparison of layers as the alternative, Perron believes the NRC solution is sophisticated enough to meet the needs of the community.

Going with NRC also means lower maintenance and software costs. CHiRP will also benefit in the long-term as the software is updated and improved, and will be able to use ideas from other communities in Canada that are participating in community mapping projects with the NRC, said Perron.

The NRC will also help to develop and improve the CHiRP site, with funding and expertise from the federal government.

"They are as interested to see this project work as we are," Perron said.

Another factor in the NRC’s favour was the idea that the CHiRP site could include links to "stories" embedded in the maps.

The stories could be provided by the public, telling people about experiences in different areas, and giving a heads-up about what visitors to the area should look for. Other stories could include educational information about a habitat or species, and links to various reports and studies.

"It was one of the things people might be able to relate to and use on the Internet, pointing to a spot on a map and getting the story from someone who’s been there," said Perron.

"It’s a great way of capturing the community, and getting the community involved. It really makes the landscape speak a bit."

Perron expects the initial CHiRP Web site, complete with maps and layers of preliminary data, to go live in the next two months, although it could be earlier than that. A Web server needs to be acquired, and members still have to settle on a Web address.

"Sometimes it feels we’re not moving forward fast enough, but things are getting done. I think the group got together and made decisions when it needed to, and I’ve been impressed by the level of involvement. This is all volunteer, except for my role, the Web developer, and municipality," he said.

The project was made possible with a grant of $75,000 from the Community Foundation of Whistler.

A group of ten local organizations are participating in the mapping project, including the Whistler-Blackcomb Habitat Improvement Team, AWARE, the Whistler Museum and Archives Society, the Whistler Forum for Dialogue, the Whistler Naturalists Society, the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Society, WORCA, the RMOW, the Whistler Centre for Sustainability and Cascade Environmental Resource Group.

For more information of the project, you can visit the temporary Web site at www.whistlermuseum.org/WhistlerMap/CHRPHome.htm.

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