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In September 1995 the Chattahoochee-Oconee N.F. entered into a Partnership agreement with the Nicaraguan Forest Service (Marena). The agreement covers five specific areas of cooperation and includes training in Global Positioing and Remote Sensing. Global Positioning (GPS) is bringing land surveying from the era of metes and bounds into the 21st century.

Nicargua Map

GPS Location of a cultural site.

The issue of land tenure (land ownership) is a major item that affects all Nicaraguans. This one issue has major impacts on their economy and future development. During the years of Sandanista rule major land holdings were taken from the titled owners ( in many cases the former ruling class) and were redistributed among the peasants. The entire system of titled ownership was shattered. This action destroyed their credit with international lending organizations (ex: World Bank) and ended economic development. The rate of unemployment rose to more than seventy percent.

Today the rate of unemployment still hovers in the 60 percent range. With the recent election of Alemande a committment has been made to spur economic development, restart the economy, and resolve the land tenure situation. Many of the folks who fled to Miami are returning home, bringing the ideas they adopted during their years in exile. Nicaragua is positioned to have an impact both in Central America and on the US. Their timber potential alone will affect US timber prices. Their vast unexplored areas and undisturbed rain forests may hold plants critical to future medicines. To date two major biologic reserves have been established, Bosawas (in the North) and Sabalos (in the South). With the establishment of these Reserves the issue of indiginous peoples rights and land boundaries require resolution. GPS is playing a major role in resolving these issues.

Global Positioning and Land Tenure

The first technical exchange occured in November 1995 and involved an Introductory Course in Global Positioning. Prior to this session numerous discussions had taken place between the US Forest Service and Marena (the Nicaraguan Forest Service) regarding GPS technology and the limitations of the equipment. Based on USFS field experiences and input from other users the decision was made to purchase Trimble ProXL units and a community base station (CBS). The project (Proyecto Manejo Sostenible) acquired two ProXL units with the new FS-2 data logger and the CBS unit.

Remote Sensing Training in the United States

USDA Forest Service and Ministry of Natural Resources personnel in the field

Training was modeled after sessions taught both in the US and abroad by FS personnel. The course is a mix of lecture, field activities and hands-on computer processing. Classrooms were provided by the Olaf Palme Center in Managua. This provided an excellant classroom environment for the lectures and computer work. Field exercises were done on a cooperative farm just out from town. The range of attendees spanned from Director's level to field technicians, from those involved in the Proyecto to those with other Ministries and included the University of Central America (UCA). Actual prior hands-on experience by any of the students with any GPS equipment was nearly zero.

Sessions typically involved a half day lecture on a specific activity followed by field experience, followed by computer processing. The course was structured as follows:
  • Introductions and expectations
  • GPS theory and terminology
  • Operational parameters
  • ProXL components
  • Mission Planning
  • Data Collecting
  • Post Processing
  • Attributes & Dictionaries
  • Navigating
  • Outputting data
  • Data conversion

Geographic Information System Training in Nicaragua

Each day built on the experiences of the previous day. A typical activity being to collect corner points of the property, correct and process the data, join the points, compute acreage, and output the information. Comparisons were done of the corrected and uncorrected information to reinforce the need of post processing. After building confidence in their ability to collect position information we went on to discuss and collect attribute information. This tied dirctly to the needs of the Proyecto and UCA.

The area of the Proyecto is in the general vacinity of Boca de Sabalos along the San Juan du Sud river. This area is only accessible by river. The local population was displaced during the Contra War and large parcels of the areas are involved in a resettlement, repartriation, program. Today, the constancy of basic municipal services is tenuous. As the resettlement progresses a biologic reserve is also being created and conflicts over unresolved land tenure boundaries threaten the integrity of the Reserve. The traditional methods of survey and inventory are far too labor intensive and slow. The government has recognized GPS as a means to quickly establish property boundaries and secure ownership rights while officially delineating the area of the Reserve.

After completion of the Managua training the teams and equipment went to the field. The first project was to conduct an inventory of timber species within a tract of Proyecto land where harvest was planned. One team collected timber attribute information. This included five critical items necessary to determine which trees were suitable for harvest and which should be protected.

The second team collected corner information related to land tenure. These attributes were more straight forward than those related to the timber inventory. All of this information was then plotted out, timber attribute information was displayed in tabular format, corner information displayed relative to geographic location, and all data was presented to the decision makers. A plan emphasizing sustainable management was crafted and implemented.

The second session was held in September 1996 at the Proyecto headquarters in Boca de Sabalos. Attending this session were representatives from four other governemental agencies as well as folks from the Proyecto and UCA. Course content was planned to build on the basics presented during the first session. But half of the attendees had not been at the Managua session and had no prior experience with GPS. In order to bring everyone to a basic level of competance an abreviated version of GPS fundamentals was presented.

Satellite image of the Rio Sabalos Project Site

Additionally, it was planned to expose the attendees to an Introduction to ArcView using data collected during the GPS exercises. The course followed the model used during the firsrt session, half a day of lecture followed by field experiences, followed by hands-on computer processing. Day trips out from town to outlying villages and a river trip to nearby El Castillo were included. At all sites, attribute information was collected, supplementing the position information. The CBS that had been utilized in Managua has been permanently setup at the Proyecto office and generated the base files used for corrections. Field exercises included:

  • mapping the important buildings of Boca de Sabalos
  • mapping the buildings of Buena Vista
  • mapping the town of El Castillo


Typically one thinks of ArcView as software that allows one to see spatial data. But ArcView is actually five specific modules. It consists of:

  • Tables
  • Charts
  • Layouts
  • Scripts

Views are the visualization of spatial data given specific parameters. Tables are the attribute data associated with a specific point, line, or area. Charts are the rearrangement of that attribute data in a way that meets the needs of the project. Layouts are the display of the spatial information in a way that conforms to accepted cartographic standards using accepted cartographic symbols. Scripts is a process of automating and customizing many of the abilities of ArcView. For the purposes of this course no attempt was made to deal with Scripts.

All GPS collected files were migrated over into ArcView and converted into the same projections as ESRI's sample data sets. The GPS information collected during the field exercises were then displayed over ESRI's World files. Zooming in on the area of the project demonstrated the vailidity of the collected information. It also served to reinforce the discussions concerning scale and datums. and how they affect the display.

The Inventory and Property Corner files previously collected now became very important in this training. The previously gathered attribute information was used extensively during the Tables and Charting modules.

As a result of this training and work done by Dr. Grenville Barnes, Uninversity of Florida, the Nicaraguan surveying community has committed to adopting GPS. This is a major change from their traditional methods of land surveying. A land surveyor has been stationed in Sabalos, full time, to work with the project. Demonstration projects involving land owners and community officials are underway.

In part from the success of the Sabalos efforts, discussions are underway of creating a multinational biologic coridor throughout Central America. Many of the lessons learned in Sabalos are being incorporated as standards for this coridor. The partnership has brought GPS, GIS, and RS technologies to bear on critical problems. Helping to resolve these issues benefits everyone and demonstrates how small and interdependant our world has become.

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Title: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests: Nicaragua, Our Partner Forest
Author: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
E-mail: Send us your comments about this web site.
Publish Date: 5/17/97
Last Updated: 5/17/97
Expiration Date: None