Western Governors Roll out Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool
I sat in on a webinar for this a couple weeks ago. It is a really interesting tool and I am looking forward to the full version. It takes dozens of data sets from each state and processes it down into a scaled response. So if you are in an area that has a high amount of environmental risk you will get a metric that tells you that. It does not tell you how much or what it is, but it will give you a relative understanding. It will be really helpful to people for pre-planning. Imagine having an idea for a transmission line corridor and being able to plot it out on a map and seeing that, yes that area is indeed has a wetlands and has significant environmental impact.
I have always thought that archaeology should develop models like this. Several U.S. states have predictive models that are available for viewing on the state cultural resource website. However, I think that individual companies could/should develop their own for pre-planning and budgeting. There are so many stories of people getting out into the field and being confronted with a topographical event that prohibits them from surveying. Often these areas are dangerous or impractical. Knowing up front that those exist before you get out into the field will save money. Even just knowing that certain areas have denser cultural resources and should be afforded a larger budget can help a company dial in their price and time table.
I find though that when I bring this topic up it makes a lot of archaeologists nervous. I will note that there are areas in the Tucson Valley that simply do not have much cultural resources because the soil type and slope do not allow for retention of materials. People often then say that GIS should not tell archaeologists what to survey and that 100% survey is there for a reason. The idea though is that it is pre-planning. It is not intended to be the end all plan. It is just another tool in your arsenal to rock out some awesome archaeology. Also, I have some serious reservations about relying on survey methods simply because 'that is how we have always done it.' These methods should be reevaluated routinely. What if these areas of moderate slope and loose soil can be surveyed at 75% and still discover the same number of resources as a 100% survey? That saves everybody time and maintains the integrity of the cultural resources while allowing you to concentrate on areas that have higher risk.