Mapping Your Watershed: Mapping Like a Fish
Images for the map at: http://danshaw.com/bear-creek.html

Mapping Like a Fish
By Dan Shaw

If you were a salmon, what kind of map would you make? You might make a map that looks very much like the new map of the Bear Creek watershed, a tributary to the Rogue River in southern Oregon. The map would emphasize the streams, showing different fish species, and the extent of their habitat range. The "fish map" would show the sources of the water in the basin, and also where the waters leave the system, whether at the mouth of the river, or at an irrigation ditch. A salmon's map would show barriers to fish movement, such as dams and other obstacles. Although the Bear Creek Watershed Map wasn't made by a fish, in many ways it is the first of its kind.

The Bear Creek Watershed Map ("the Map") was conceived by Stuart Allan of Raven Maps fame, and Kerry Kencairn, who now sits on the City of Ashland Planning Commission. They wanted to produce a map of the local watershed, which could serve as a common starting point for discussion among citizens, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. A watershed is defined as "the area from which all surface water drains (sheds) to a common outlet". Stuart would donate his considerable skills as a cartographer, and Kerry would recruit a student intern from Southern Oregon University, Dan Shaw, the author of this article. The map would show the little towns in our area at the grand scale of one inch on the map representing one mile on the ground. People could locate their houses, and students could see their schools in relation to the nearest stream, and to the whole scheme of the stream network in their area. The final size of the map would be an enormous three feet high by four feet wide. The Map could only be produced by a coordinated effort between all the overlapping government agencies, non-profit organizations, and individual stakeholders. Donations would be needed to cover production expenses, so that the Maps could be distributed freely to schools, agencies, and environmental organizations. Our poor little mapping fish would learn that producing a thematic map such as this watershed map requires many, many crucial choices in the design.

Streams are not all alike. Some run all year, others, (called "ephemeral" or "intermittent") run only during the winter or only during wet years. The Map required us to show larger streams and smaller streams as well. So we began with colored highlighter pens, ranking streams according to their "order". Intermittent streams, first order streams, would eventually be shown as dotted lines. Where two intermittent streams joined, the stream becomes a second order stream. Where two of these join, it becomes a third order stream, on down to Bear Creek, and then to the Rogue River, where it heads to its mouth at Brookings (?) on the Pacific Coast. Our method was somewhat undermined, when, later in the project, we found more detailed data on the ephemeral streams. Our area of interest included the valley bounded by Mount Ashland and Pilot Rock to the southeast, and Lower and Upper Table Rocks to the northwest. This ring of peaks, from which all water flows down to Bear Creek, we highlighted with a thick dotted line. The adjoining basins include the Klamath and the Applegate. Even among government agencies, there is much disagreement about the designation of basins and sub-basins. The Klamath is of a greater order than the Applegate, since, like the Bear Creek, the Applegate drains into the Rogue River. The Klamath River, like the Rogue, drains into the Pacific. Two neighboring basins, the ?? and ?? are often overlooked because they are smaller than the other Rogue tributaries. Thus we chose to include them prominently.

A cardinal rule of mapmaking is to always start by clipping a much wider area than you think you're going to need. A good ways along we decided that we actually needed to show a greater portion of the Klamath basin, since some of the Bear Creek supply is stored in reservoirs across the ridge and then piped into our basin. Our final map size increased again when we added room for our legend, and for a stripe of our sponsor's logos along the right side of the Map.

We obtained the most recent species data we could from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and as with each new layer of data, we returned to our sources for fact checking. Different species of fish use different parts of the stream systems, just as different birds prefer different places in the trees. We would show two types of fish, resident fish (trout), and anadromous fish, those that migrate to the ocean and return to spawn. Of the latter, there are several different species of salmon. Eventually, we depicted four species of fish, each in a different color. No sooner had our map been published, than a student discovered a salmon in the creek behind his school, and ODFW came out to verify. Our map was instantly outdated, as it was confirmed that the salmon have an extra four or so stream miles of habitat, despite a number of obstacles.

ODFW also provided us with data on fish barriers, such as dams and other obstacles. Obstacles were of several types, some impassable to fish and some passable. On one stream, ODFW had a thorough survey which had been done by a volunteer, unfortunately, we could not use this more complete data because it skewed the appearance of the rest of the Map.

Before the settlement of the Rogue Valley, Bear Creek dried up in the summer. Now that water is retained during the winter and released in summer, Bear Creek runs year round. In effect, the water flow regime has been turned upside-down. Unfortunately, it was not possible for us to depict this issue fully on our Map. At best we could only show the irrigation system in the valley, and how it interacts with the streams; removing water in some places, replacing water in some places, and at some points, crossing streams without intermingling. Our local Irrigation Districts had just hired a mapping specialist, and so the data we needed only became available during our production process.

In our area, as elsewhere, urban growth encroaches on farm land. Our little valley is filled with pear orchards. These consume a significant portion of our water. We depicted them with a subtle pattern of green dots. Medford is the major city, but our area also includes the smaller towns of Ashland, Phoenix, Talent, Central Point, and Eagle Point. We showed both their current extent and the Urban Growth Boundaries. Cities and farms unfortunately contribute pollutants to our streams, in the form of agricultural chemical runoff, livestock waste, and the water from sewage treatment plants, to name a few. In some cases, water returning to the stream is too warm to support healthy fish. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provided us with the data for holders of Discharge Permits. The DEQ only permits controlled discharges, and so these permittees should not be considered polluters. Our little area has two federal toxic SuperFund sites, one a defunct transformer manufacturer, and the other a defunct railyard. However, we chose not to include these.

We began building the Map with a digital elevation model of the area, which would be printed in a false-color scheme called "hypsometric tints", with higher elevations appearing white, and lower appearing green. As we brought in data from other sources, the data often had to be reprojected, from one of the many different projects to our projection, which is "NAD73" (??). Another cartographer's maxim goes, "There is no such thing as the perfect data." We wanted to show every possible stream name in our area, but we discovered that we didn't have consensus! Some streams had two names, elsewhere there were two streams with the same name. Stream name type had to be reset to match our finished size, and according to stream order. We showed not only stream names within our watershed, but had to name some of the major streams "outside" our area of interest as well.

The enormity of the project began to dawn on our student intern, and Paul Kay stepped up to the plate to help manage the project, production, fund-raising, and distribution. The Bear Creek Watershed Education Partners provided some seed money, and other funds came from (??). We are grateful to all the people who contributed their time and money to see this project through.

At the eleventh hour, better digital elevation model data became available. We had been using data with a 30-meter resolution, and now threw that out to use the more precise 10-meter data (??). This was a mixed blessing, since it required that many of the stream segments needed to be slightly adjusted to fit.

Map-making is a curious art, because one must continually adjust all the elements until they all balance just right. Every detail involved myriad design decisions. What weight of type? What kind of symbol? What color? How many kinds? When you see a map a print, it is easy to accept it on face value, as representing "the truth", but making a map proves that every element represents some sort of editorial decision.

Finally, the map film went to the printer. When it came back, volunteers spent several days rolling the maps, putting them into their plastic sleeves, and delivering them free to the local schools, just in time for National Geography Week. Maps are also available for sale the general public at a few locations, with the entire sale price being donated to the Bear Creek Watershed Education Partners. School children throughout the valley, residents, and policy makers point to the same map, spotting where they live, and telling stories about the places they love around their homes. The measure of a well-made map is that people looking at it respond, "It's beautiful". That may be one of the most important impacts of the Map. People see the beauty of their home-land. The Bear Creek Watershed Map is doing its magic, helping people to conceive of their place in a more integrated, systemic way, and to feel more connected to their place. The watershed map is special because of its emphasis on natural boundaries that connect ecosystems, instead of the artificial, man-made boundaries that divide political jurisdictions. When people can envision their region ("bioregion") as an integrated whole system, they feel empowered to take responsibility, and to affect positive changes. On this subject, I recommend the book, Boundaries of Home, Mapping for Local Empowerment, edited by Doug Aberly. Stuart Allan, the Bear Creek Watershed Map cartographer, contributed one of the chapters.

The world needs more maps like the Bear Creek Watershed Map. If we all looked at the world from a fish-eye point of view, we would exercise more care and stewardship for our water, the resource on which we all depend, and which connects us all, human and animal alike.

About the Author:
Dan Shaw graduated from Southern Oregon University in June 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography. He has published two unusual maps, showing the geometric relationships between sacred places. Dan is currently looking for employment mapping plants, animals, or archaeologic sites. His websites: DanShaw.com & VortexMaps.com.

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