Agriculture uses GPS to pinpoint easements

A Texas field office of the Agriculture Department is producing computer images of land easements via Global Positioning System technology. The office embeds the images into software that automates land agreements between USDA and landowners.

In a January pilot, field biologists from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Texas shuttled along the borders of area easements, towing advanced GPS devices to record land dimensions down to 1/100th of an acre. They tapped a T1 connection through a satellite dish hitched to a truck.

The biologists then uploaded the images to TerraServer, a 3T spatial repository of high-resolution Geological Survey aerial imagery and topographic maps, at terraserver.microsoft.com.

Starting three weeks ago, NRCS began pulling the images from TerraServer into its Program Contracts System, or ProTracts. The in-house system uses geospatial Web services that USDA employees developed.

ProTracts lets users complete and store 700 types of landowner contract forms online. It links to all the images, from satellite to street level, of the land areas described in each contract.

'It's how it all bonds together,' said Steve Ekblad, project manager of NRCS' Information Technology Center. 'I can find exactly where an easement is.' Access to the integrated system will spread to 2,600 conservation offices nationwide next year.

Ekblad said, however, that USDA managers are evaluating the cost-effectiveness of lugging along a satellite dish for high-speed Internet connections.

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