Land Disturbance Editor ArcMap Add-In

One of my colleagues, TerraSystems Southwest, is assisting The Nature Conservancy in Tucson with the Sonoran Desert Disturbed Lands Analysis project. As part of their scope of work, they were asked to assess the level and type of land disturbance for over 100,000 1-square mile hexagons covering the Sonoran Desert.

As you might expect, editing the attributes of 100,000+ polygons is not a trivial task, and TerraSystems approached me to help find a way to make their editing task faster. The solution we came up with was a custom ArcMap add-in that would enable them to quickly edit the attributes for a selected polygon and move to the next feature for assessment.

The ArcGIS 10.0 and 10.1 add-in was developed in Visual Studio 2010 using esri ArcObjects, and contains a custom toolbar, tools, buttons, and dockable window forms. The Add-in leverages the ArcGIS add-in framework for simple deployment and updating.

TNC Custom Add-in Toolbar

The Add-in quickly edits the attributes of customizable fields to record the following information about each hexagon:

  • The disturbance amount (i.e. DistAmnt) of type Double
  • The disturbance type (i.e. DistType) of type String at least 2 characters wide. (The editor records an abbreviation of the disturbance type)
  • The order (priority) in which you want to edit the polygons (i.e. HexID), of type Integer
  • A flag (i.e. DistFlag) indicating that a polygon needs further review, of type Integer (stores a null, 0 or 1)

The Add-in allows users to identify the layer and fields in which to record these attributes, so it is not hard-coded to a particular layer or field name. In addition, the Add-in records the layer and field assignments to an XML file for reloading in future editing sessions, so users only need to configure the Add-in once.

TNC Custom Add-in Screen

Moreover, it was important to also ensure that the disturbance level and type attributes were not hard-coded, as it may be advantageous to add additional disturbance types in the future. In response, the Add-in was written to load both the disturbance levels and types from XML files that can be easily accessed from within the Add-in to make changes to the attributes the Add-in records for each feature.

XML Screenshot

The main strength of this Add-in is time savings during editing, users can select a feature and quickly edit multiple attributes using two different editing methods:

  • The Add-in dynamically* maps keys on their keyboard to enable power users to press a number key to set the feature’s level of disturbance, followed by a letter key to set the feature’s type of disturbance. Users can also press the space-bar to flag a feature as needing follow-up.
  • Alternatively, users can open the dockable Quick Edit window that contains dynamically* added buttons that represent disturbance levels and disturbance types. Users simply click one disturbance level button and another disturbance type button to set the feature’s attributes. Alternatively, users can click a button to flag the feature for follow-up.

TNC Custom Add-in Screen 2

* The buttons and keys are dynamically mapped when the Add-in loads. So if users edit the XML files to register new disturbance levels and types, the Add-in will dynamically map a new key and add new buttons to the QuickEdit Window.

Once both the feature’s disturbance level and type have been set (either by pressing custom mapped keys or using the Quick Edit Window), the Add-in will automatically* select the next feature in the edit series (using the field users selected as their Priority field when they configured the Add-in) and automatically* zoom to the next feature for inspection.

* Some times there are editing situations in which users prefer to not have the Add-in automatically select the next feature and/or zoom to the next feature. So both of these functions can be turned on or off in the Add-in’s configuration window.

Finally the Add-in contains help documentation showing users how to install, use and customize the Add-in.

TNC Custom Add-in Screen 3

By a conservative estimate, this Add-in shaves approximately 7 seconds off of each editing operation. Multiplied by the 100,000+ hexagons, the Add-in has saved nearly 200 hours on this project and countless hours on future projects that can leverage its customizable framework for future conservation assessment programs.

For more information about the Add-in please contact John Donoghue at: mail [at] johndonoghue [dot] net.

Recent Posts

CNPS Online Inventory of Rare Plants v9.0

For the past year, while working for Rincon Consultants, I have been working with two colleagues, Andrew Walter of The Jones Payne Group, and Mark Naftzger of Studio Simple, to develop the latest version of the California Native Plant Society’s Online Inventory of Rare Plants.

The new CNPS Online Rare Plant Inventory (Inventory) is the latest evolution of an effort CNPS started in 1974. Since that time, CNPS produced six printed editions from 1974 to 2001, when the first online edition was launched. The previous inventory were composed of three elements: A Microsoft Access database that CNPS staff used to maintain the names and status attributes of rare plants, and an online database managed by another individual, and a public-facing website. This architecture required regularly transferring files from MS Access to the online database manager for processing into the database powering the public site.

The new version redeveloped the back-end plant management features of the MS Access database with the public-facing search and status information and a single comprehensive database. This version also includes a modern, streamlined, and mobile-friendly interface and a new underlying architecture that creates the foundation for future enhancements to take advantage of modern web technologies, including potential Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and geospatial integrations.

CNPS is the leading voice in plant science and conservation in California and one of the foremost native plant organizations in the world (CNPS, 2019). The new Inventory is a widely used resource that directly guides rare plant protection, conservation planning, land acquisition, and management in California. It is considered the authoritative source for rare plant information and used every day by agencies, consultants (including Rincon and our competitors), and conservationists to determine the potential for rare plant resource conflicts, develop project-specific lists of rare plants to target during botanical surveys, and help prepare and review environmental documents and public testimony to influence decision-makers.

For this version, Andrew was responsible for the database design, including the tables, views, triggers, and stored procedures that power many functions in the database. Mark created a brilliant, mobile-friendly Bootstrap template for the public and back-end pages. Finally, I developed the .Net MVC C# and JavaScript coding in Visual Studio.

It was an interesting project for a noteworthy organization and we all learned a a great deal more about our respective disciplines while pushing our personal envelopes to deliver a product worthy of its history and one we hope our CNPS predecessors would be proud of.

Our work to build this new version is the culmination of a 7-year effort by CNPS’ Rare Plant Manager, Aaron Simms, who has been great to work with.

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