Leveraging Lens for ecological restoration project prospecting

Apr 2, 2023
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Struggling to find better data for potential restoration projects? Lens might be what you need.

It’s no secret that remote sensing is vitally important to accomplishing ecosystem restoration projects. When I worked as a restoration ecologist, I constantly referenced whatever remote imagery and data I could get my hands on through all stages of my projects. Remotely sensed data provided me with context I might not see in the field and data that informed sound decision making. But more often than not, I ran into inconsistent imagery coverage across my sites, data in formats that I couldn’t access or understand, or files that took forever to download.

This is a familiar story to any wetland restoration or natural resource project developer, but the challenges can be particularly acute when it comes to prospecting or conducting diligence for future projects. Imagery and data availability can vary widely across geographies, making simply finding the data needed for prospecting time and resource intensive. Once the appropriate data is identified, it can take considerable expertise and resources to get it into a format that’s easily used for decision-making. Back when I was trying to identify strong projects, if I was going to spend my time driving out to survey a remote site, I wanted to feel confident it was an important candidate before I got in the truck. 

Enter Lens. Lens is a web-based platform built to make all this easier. Lens can help in prospecting and diligence of project sites by aggregating:

  • True-color imagery and land use data
  • Ecological index layers in an easy-to-analyze format
  • Up-to-date parcel information
  • The tools you need to tell a compelling story about the ecological opportunities of a project site

Before we signed up for Lens, we were struggling to assess lands with the potential for conservation. Without aerial imagery acquired at specific times of the year, or after significant weather events, it was impossible to conduct a thorough assessment.

Since we started working with Lens, we have been able to successfully assess lands for potential conservation very quickly and with certainty. We might have passed over several opportunities this past year if we hadn't been able to use Lens to indicate suitable lands for conservation, allowing us to pursue land acquisition opportunities with greater confidence.” - Mike Lozano, Senior GIS Analyst, Westervelt”

As an ecologist, the first step I take when beginning a new restoration project is to view the property on a recent satellite image. Aerial imagery is powerful: it provides context we may not see when we are on a field visit, providing us with a “10,000 foot view” of a site and all the natural and human influences on our resources of interest.

Just as present-day imagery can provide context on the current state of land use in and around a site, archival images can show us how the landscape has changed over time, and how that change might influence a potential project going forward. In Lens, customers can access a vast selection of older public and commercial aerial and satellite imagery.

Looking back at older satellite and aerial imagery can help answer questions about whether or not the site is a good candidate for restoration and can provide information that influences future design. For example, knowing a stream's erosion potential can help us prioritize potential projects by their conservation impact or by the mitigation credits they could produce. Using Lens’ archive of high-resolution imagery, we can assess a stream’s stability over time. Answering these questions remotely means we can spend our valuable time in the field on viable restoration projects and not dead-ends.

Next, I check the site’s hydrology. A site visit provides us with a one-time snapshot of conditions. But is the floodplain in that meander bend always that wet? Do the wetlands that we delineated always have that much standing water? These are important questions to answer when thinking through design considerations. By accessing different ecological data layers like surface moisture and surface water, Lens can help us piece together the story of our site to help us make the most well-informed design decisions.

Finally, if I were excited about an area’s restoration potential, I’d look for parcel data. In restoration, our work often relies on partnerships and collaboration with private landowners. That starts with knowing who owns the land you’d like to work on. I can’t count how many times I’ve had trouble obtaining parcel data for potential projects. Fortunately, Lens provides parcel data from Regrid that provides nationwide parcel boundary information with the associated owner name, tax ID, and address.

Additionally, practitioners can use our Ownership Change Alerts, which provide notifications when there’s been a change of owner in an area of interest, allowing prospecting teams to be proactive when a previous owner may not have been open to restoration on their property.

From initial site prospecting, data collection, and due diligence, to ecological story telling, Lens can be a valuable tool for finding worthwhile restoration projects. I wish I had Lens back when I worked as a restoration project manager. It would have made my life much easier and benefited the conservation work I was implementing. If I would have had the chance to incorporate Lens into my project evaluation I know I would have saved loads of time both in the office and in the field, resulting in more resources going to project implementation .

To learn more about how Lens can benefit your restoration work, check out our latest Guidebook for Changing Landscapes.

Curious to see how Lens can support your team's goals? We’re here to help! Request a meeting with our team here.