Auburn forestry researchers create booklet to help landowners map property online

AUBURN – Most landowners know every inch of their property – fences, timber stands, steams, pastures, hills, everything – yet they don’t know what the property looks like from above or on a map.

Auburn University forestry researcher John Gilbert kept encountering this situation as he conducted a study for the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, so he created an instructional booklet to help landowners use online mapping programs.

Gilbert, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forestry at Auburn in 2003 and 2007, respectively, got the idea while working with landowners to record locations of longleaf pine forest stands in Alabama. The longleaf pine is Alabama’s state tree and its stands once covered millions of acres in the state, but only fragments exist today.

“Most landowners did not know about GIS [Geographic Information Systems] or how to use their computers to map their property,” Gilbert said. “They had used GPS [Global Positioning System] devices and some had used Google Maps to find driving directions, but they did not know they could use Google to create land maps. Many people had no maps at all and would just send me the legal description.”

Gilbert and Auburn colleague John Kush obtained an Alabama Forests Forever Education Grant and put the idea into action, developing a 20-page booklet titled “Mapping Your Land: An Overview for Landowners.”

The booklet is designed for beginners and it has tutorial information on how to use five online mapping programs, Gilbert says. It covers Google Earth; Web Soil Survey and Geospatial Data Gateway, both from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service; Alabama Historic Aerial Photo Archive from the University of Alabama; and CanVIS from the USDA National Agroforestry Center.

“The booklet focuses on the five programs to help landowners utilize maps with aerial photography, topographic layers, soils information, data collected with GPS units and even a visual simulation, such as adding images of trees on open fields. This lets landowners see what it would like if they planted trees,” Gilbert said.

He says the information would help landowners better manage their property for timber, crops, wildlife habitat, livestock forage, watershed management, aesthetics and recreation.

“I set it up for landowners, but anyone can use it,” Gilbert said. “Students can use it for class projects. Homeowners might find it helpful as well. Really it’s for anyone who wants to have geographic information about a piece of property.”

Gilbert and Kush were able to print 225 copies for free distribution and have placed it online for anyone wanting to download it. It is available on the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences’ Longleaf Pine Stand Dynamics Lab website at The authors hope to print additional copies and to present three workshops this spring about online mapping.

More information about the booklet is available by contacting Gilbert at (334) 329-0236 or A video segment and photographs are available on the Auburn University Office of Communications and Marketing website,

(Written by Charles Martin.)

Contact: Charles Martin, (334) 844-9999, (, or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (