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Collect Forest Data with ESRI Collector App

ESRI Collector App makes field data collection simple. And even better, the data integrates seamlessly with ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Desktop software.

For those interested in collecting GIS data in the field, ESRI’s Collector app is a nice complement to the ArcGIS* platform, and the data collected is seamlessly shared within an ArcGIS Online organization. Individuals, or teams, can collect nearly any type of data imaginable, with the added benefit of location embedded.

For this post I will briefly introduce the ESRI Collector app and provide two examples of how I’ve incorporated this tool into my field workflows. I’m currently using Collector to track inspections of Silvicultural activities, harvests, gates, culverts and more. I am also using the app to collect stem data which will be used in creating local taper equations. Collector is capable of much more than these simple use cases.

What is Collector?

Collector is just one of many mobile apps that are available from ESRI. It is fully integrated with ArcGIS, and seamlessly incorporates into your daily workflows. Collector works with shared ArcGIS Online web maps that are published with an ArcGIS Online account. With an ArcGIS Online account, users can host GIS data (feature layers, maps, basemaps, etc.) using a secure, private format. A key advantage of the ArcGIS Online platform is that GIS professionals and content creators have full control over what to share, and with whom. The Collector app connects with shared content, and allows GIS maps to be used anywhere, anytime, in online or offline mode. This simplifies the data collection process and makes GIS data available where Forest workers need it most, in the field.

Next, I will briefly describe some real-life forestry examples where I am using Collector in my daily workflows.

Workflow 1: Using Collector to Collect Harvest Inspection Reports

For the past several months, I’ve used the Collector app to record harvest inspection field notes. During active and on-going timber sales, Foresters often perform field inspections of the harvest or thinning operations. In this example, I use Collector to capture and store harvest details, synchronize it with hosted feature layers in ArcGIS Online, and incorporate those features into a Geodatabase in ArcGIS Pro. ArcGIS Pro makes it easy to work the data in projects and maps, or copy the features and attributes to a Geodatabase for offline storage.

The Collector entry form interface is a simple popup window within the app. The entry form is created and displayed by Collector using the underlying attributes in the feature classes published in the web map. With Collector, users can create and edit features in the field, or collect data on existing features. Collector will display the maps according to properties and settings in the web map, so it’s important to spend time thinking about the design and the features that are required before implementing the full system. I found several steps in the setup process to be quirky, and had to start projects over and over, multiple times. I’ll admit it took some time to figure out how the settings and structure of the underlying layers affected the capabilities in Collector. Now that I have the process down, it’s a breeze to setup.

Below is a video which shows how the harvest inspection data was collected on a logging site. In this case, I have a feature layer called “Harvest Unit” (polygon) with additional field attributes. The related table information for the Harvest Unit is called “Harvest Inspection”. This table is hosted within the web map and is related to the Feature Layer using a key field with type GUID (Global Unique Identifier). When the fields are completed, and the form is submitted, the data is instantly synchronized with the ArcGIS Online web map, and is immediately accessible by anyone in the organization who has shared access to the content.

Video of entering Harvest Inspection data into ESRI Collector App

Workflow 2: Using Collector to Collect Harvest Stem Taper Data

A somewhat related project I’ve used Collector for, was documenting stem taper data from recently harvested trees. I use Collector to store tree measurements and to geotag the collection location where these data points were taken.

When designing feature layers and related tables, users can add attributes for collecting GPS metadata and for storing photos, videos and other media formats. For example, Collector will store GPS metadata such as the capture location in Latitude/Longitude fields, and accuracy data (PDOP, HDOP and VDOP) for collected points. Users can also add attachment records for collecting photos, videos, and other media types during the data entry process.

Below is a video showing the harvest stem taper data collection process. The data entry process is quick and intuitive, and the submission process worked quickly even in areas of weak cellular coverage.

Video of entering Harvest Stem Data in ESRI Collector

Closing Thoughts

One final point about the Collector app is that by default it uses the built-in GPS for the device. The accuracy on iOS and Android devices may not be enough precision for your workflow. In most cases the best I could get with an iPhone was around +/- 20 feet. The good news is that for point features, Collector has an option for GPS Averaging, where multiple points are averaged together to improve the location accuracy. If higher precision is needed, Collector also works with external receivers which are capable of providing sub-meter accuracy.

Overall, I believe the ESRI Collector mobile app is an ideal tool to keep in mind for forestry field collection workflows. If you would like to learn more about current ESRI products like ArcGIS Pro or ArcGIS Online, please visit the ESRI homepage. I believe ESRI still offers an educational license of ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online for around a hundred dollars per year. If you are experienced with ArcGIS, and you have access to the ArcGIS online platform, then I highly recommend looking at Collector and other ESRI field apps to help with your field data collection needs.

* ArcGIS is a Trademark of ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc)

Categories: Forestry Apps

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