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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Oct 25

How Mobile Technology is Helping MMWD Protect Mt. Tam

Posted on October 25, 2017 at 11:26 AM by Ann Vallee

Using mobile technology on the watershedMt. Tam is the defining feature of Marin. It provides unparalleled scenic beauty and abundant opportunities for recreation, as well as clean drinking water for MMWD customers. For MMWD, protecting the mountain from the growing threats of wildfire, invasive pest plants, sudden oak death and climate change is an ongoing challenge. And because we do not use herbicides on our watershed lands, we are working to control the spread of weeds through manual and mechanical means, which are more labor-intensive. Fortunately, mobile technology is helping us do all this work more effectively and efficiently. 

For example, MMWD heavy equipment operator Kevin Cook relies on mobile technology to steer large mowing machinery through steep, forested terrain. The equipment is used to cut and mulch underbrush as part of our Resilient Forest Study, an ongoing project looking at how to best restore the health of forests affected by sudden oak death. Many mobile map applications need an internet connection or cell service, making them impractical for use in remote areas of the watershed. Instead, Cook and other field staff use static maps preloaded onto their mobile devices combined with GPS (global positioning system) technology. By tracking his location on a topographic map via GPS, Cook is able to safely navigate the mower even where the brush is so dense and tall he can’t physically see where he’s headed. 

The system not only shows him where he’s going, but also where he’s been. By logging his route, the GPS provides valuable data that MMWD scientists and resource managers can use to help us improve our forest management methods and allocate limited time and funds most effectively. 

Data tracking is similarly valuable for our pile burning work. Weeds and brush cleared for habitat restoration and fuelbreak maintenance are piled and then burned during the winter months. Watershed maintenance crews can track the time and location of each burn, geotag photos of the burn piles, and even append instant weather reports—data that help ensure the pile burns comply with air quality requirements. Formerly this information had to be manually recorded and tracked, so the increase in efficiency has been welcome. As Cook notes, with less time needed for recordkeeping, he has “more time to get my boots moving on the mountain and actually do the work.”

Photos by MMWD heavy equipment operator Kevin Cook (top to bottom): Mower headed into dense underbrush, view from inside the mower with mobile navigation device, and the mower above Bon Tempe Reservoir on Mt. Tamalpais Watershed.


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