Maps are the most visible and frequently used products of a natural resources inventory. NRI maps can highlight important resources, their location and extent and show potential problems and threats to these resources.
Geographic information system (GIS) technology greatly enhances the mapping process, allowing complex projects to be completed more quickly. GIS is a computer-based tool that allows users to collect, manage, analyze and display geographic information. It can be used for simple tasks like creating a digital map, or for more complex operations like analyzing large quantities of data. Different types of information, such as soils, wetlands, well locations, roads, and town boundaries are stored as separate data layers. Using GIS technology, multiple data layers can be combined to generate a composite map (see NRI Map Examples). By combining information from a variety of sources into a common scale and format, these maps help communities and conservation groups consider the interactions of many resources and land uses in their decision-making. These digitally-produced maps can be easily updated as new information becomes available.
For communities without GIS expertise or capability, a number of free, easy-to-use online mapping tools allow users to explore publicly available data sets and evaluate local natural resources. These tools allow the user to produce small scale 8.5 x 11size maps. GIS is needed to produce the large scale (poster size) maps needed for a NRI.