Vegetation Mapping at National Parks

Science Center Objects

Impact of UMESC Science

To provide a research tool enabling the National Park Service to better manage their resources for the betterment of the American public. Data sets developed by this program provide a structure for framing and answering critical scientific, planning, and management questions about vegetation communities and park natural resources and their relation to environmental processes across the landscape.

The National Park Service Vegetation Mapping Inventory (NPS VMI) Program products provide the NPS Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) Program with baseline vegetation information. The NPS I&M Program is vital in equipping NPS managers with reliable scientific information for making decisions regarding stewardship of NPS lands. This provides the NPS with the information necessary for the management and preservation of the Nation’s park lands in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

The NPS VMI Program suite of products provide a structure for framing and answering critical scientific questions about vegetation communities and their relation to environmental processes across the landscape. The NPS VMI Program activities are based on peer-reviewed, objective science. Comprehensive vegetation information is provided at national and regional levels through linkage to the U.S. National Vegetation Classification System, while also serving local management needs of individual parks. Products are used for various resource management, planning, compliance, and public educational purposes at the park, regional, and national levels. Information for each park must therefore be consistent in classification, detail, and accuracy. Common research needs are monitoring, invasive species, habitat models, wildlife surveys, and fire management.

The Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center (UMESC) began partnering with the NPS VMI Program in 1996. This partnership is based upon the superior skillset maintained by the UMESC staff in the areas of GIS, imagery interpretation, vegetation mapping, image processing, accuracy assessment analyses, and biological and natural sciences. This matches the NPS VMI Program’s needs for a biologically based and linked product. Although UMESC staff use state-of-the-art mapping technology to produce maps, it is the biological background and extensive field experience of the team combined with their mapping experience that is a huge benefit for mapping ecologically-based plant communities and understanding the vegetation classification.

Beginning in 2005, UMESC and the NPS VMI Program initiated vegetation mapping through an NPS network-wide approach that clusters parks by region. UMESC has finished all parks, except Isle Royale, in the Great Lakes Network (GLKN). With this completion, the UMESC team has eight of the nine parks in GLKN. The conclusion of the initial mapping of the entire GLKN has also allowed the UMESC team to apply their understanding of the vegetation across GLKN to build a crosswalk that updated and standardized the vegetation classifications for all nine park units into one unified classification and display.

In addition to working extensively within GLKN, the UMESC mapping team has mapped Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Buffalo National River, and Effigy Mounds National Monument in the Heartland Network (HTLN), Glacier National Park in the Rocky Mountain Network (ROMN), Acadia National Park in the Northeast Temperate Network (NETN), Natchez Trace Parkway and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in the Gulf Coast Network (GULN), and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which spans approximately 2200 miles and ties together the ecology of 14 states, but is represented by NETN.

Finally, there are two additional National Park project currently in progress at UMESC. The first is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which maintains some of the preeminent remaining stands of old-growth forest in the eastern US and is in the Appalachian Highlands Network (APHN). The second is Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which is a new national monument just entering the initial planning stages. This national monument is not part of a network as yet and only a portion of the monument is being mapped at this time.


In total UMESC has mapped over 1.5 million hectares of National Park Lands in assistance to the NPS VMI Program providing high-quality, reliable products to our National Parks across the United States.

Point of contact: Jennifer Dieck

For more information, please visit these NPS and USGS links:

NPS Vegetation Mapping Inventory Program 

NPS Vegetation Inventory Products

Links to Vegetation Mapping Projects Completed by UMESC