Vaiden Bloch (GIS Forester)

GIS Forester  

Northwest Management, Inc. forester Vaiden Bloch has spent much of his career ensuring that people know their boundaries —land-related, that is. As a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist, Vaiden specializes in GIS analysis and computer mapmaking. “Foresters need good maps to do their job properly,” he explains. “Relying on someone who can make good, accurate maps saves time, money and headaches. Today a GIS specialist is a must for all organizations involved with land management.”

Such skills are especially helpful with forest properties because of often outdated aerial photographs. With the new tools, “the forester is able to go out and collect new, accurate data on feature locations that will be used to update maps and show where things exist.” Then, the viewer can better understand where things are in order to walk the land and map it to determine acres for cruising, tree planting or other types of forest management.

Vaiden works with ranchers, forest-related entities and land trusts throughout the Northwest. His duties at Northwest Management’s  Moscow headquarters involve putting geographical data into computers — often after visits to  remote areas, using instruments like Global Positioning System (GPS), compasses, maps, tape measures, etc. to note waypoints of photo locations and to document these areas with a camera.

As the firm’s technical services support forester, Vaiden spends office time involved in GIS work and analysis for field personnel or helping prepare documents for special projects. Field projects could be like the one where he traveled to a 60,000-acre Montana ranch to collect data for a conservation easement baseline inventory. To perform these tasks, he first had to make maps to know where he was going and to plan his collection process.

A lifelong outdoors enthusiast with forest-related experiences ranging from helitech fire fighting to contract forestry, Vaiden delved into digital mapping after transferring from the University of New Mexico to the University of Idaho where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in forest management and Master’s in forest products.

In 1982, he worked with GIS on a system (now obsolete) housed in the U of I architecture department called COMARC. “This was the first GIS system in existence at the time,” he recalls, “but GIS software was evolving and has since dominated in popularity. I always saw the utility in digital mapping and geographic information and continually kept abreast of the technology.”

During the early 1990s, when GPS began to develop as an option for acquiring mapping information, Vaiden’s knowledge of the technology led to his demand as a speaker and trainer on the subject. “It started out as many good ideas do in the Defense Department. As the science improved, the availability of GPS constellation was completed and the opportunity to use GPS in more areas was allowed, the market for consumer grade GPS equipment boomed.  Everyone was using it. Accuracy got better and it became a true, inexpensive geographic data collection device,” he explains. “I began getting new and different contracts to use GPS and integrated the technology with GIS.”

One of his most fascinating career experiences occurred in Wyoming with a rehabilitation project on the Wind River Indian Reservation from 2002-06 after the Kate’s Basin Complex Fire of 2000. “That involved extensive ground reconnaissance, mapping, restoration and mitigation to improve the site after the fire,” he says. “We planted over a million trees in the project and spent a lot of time in an area untouched and pristine. I got to better understand Native Americans and their love for the land and the changes they have gone through since Lewis and Clark opened up the Northwest.”

The personal road map toward Vaiden’s forestry career began in New Mexico on a snow-shoe hike with a USFS forest ranger in the Sandia Mountains. “We walked through the woods, and he [the forester] explained stand dynamics . . . I had my first revelation of succession and the inter-workings of nature,” he recalls. “I knew then I wanted to work in the woods and with trees.”

For anyone interested pursuing a similar forestry route, he suggests earning an MBA with a minor in forestry and information technology or natural resources. “Get out and learn the basics that are not taught in college anymore,” Vaiden advises. “Be willing to learn the tools and techniques involved, which means beating the brush for many years . . . getting dirty . . . walking a lot of ground and seeing forests in all stages of development, condition and ownership.”

Want to know more?

º What is timber cruising?

º An overview of Northwest Management, Inc., where Vaiden is a partner

º What is a Consulting Forester?

º The Association of Consulting Foresters of America

º History of GPS Systems

º All about GPS by Trimble Navigation