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Natural Systems Mapping


What is it?

Natural System Mapping provides information on the location and boundaries of natural features on the landscape, such as wetlands, species at risk habitat, environmentally sensitive areas, native vegetation, connectivity zones, or unique natural features. The data used for mapping can provide additional information such as function, condition, threats, projections or other analysis / modelling. Some mapping can be done using existing available data.

How can municipalities use it?

In order to make effective policies that protect, maintain, or enhance the natural infrastructure system, municipalities need a good understanding of where their natural assets are. Natural System Mapping can provide direction on best land use practices, and enables municipalities to effectively and transparently communicate the locations and boundaries of the area in question to land owners and the public.

What are the advantages?

The advantages of Natural System Mapping include:

  • Creates a common understanding of the location and boundaries of the natural infrastructure assets in a municipality

  • Can provide a tangible, scientifically-defensible information base

  • Provides essential insight needed to make geographically-specific decisions

  • Adds powerful visual context that can help educate citizens

  • Can ensure municipalities do not depend on proponents to identify the community’s natural systems

What should you watch out for?

No tool is a silver bullet. When considering mapping needs, municipalities should consider the following:

  • Mapping can be expensive in absence of readily available datasets

  • Mapping should occur at a detailed enough scale to match the decision being made

  • Municipalities and citizens must be confident in the information presented in the map

  • Where data is not available, or at too course of a scale, mapping will require research, and ideally ground truthing

  • Circumstances change rapidly, and mapping may quickly become out of date

  • People may equate the existence of a natural features with a preconceived assumption of what that implies for management

  • There can be a tendency to direct management action only in places where there is available data

  • Mapping data should be collected in a compatible format to other data used by the municipality

  • Developer-created mapping data may understate the existing natural infrastructure assets

  • A clear sense of what is meant by ‘natural infrastructure system’ is needed in order to map it

How can it help maintain natural infrastructure?

Natural System Mapping can help to maintain all aspects of the natural infrastructure system – assets, functions, and benefits – by providing municipalities with a spatial, data-driven illustration of the location, boundaries and characteristics of natural infrastructure assets. This facilitates municipalities’ ability to share that information easily and to develop consensus on the management and protection of those assets.



Alberta Parks Data Sets – Downloadable data sets available from Alberta Parks.

GeoDiscover Alberta – GeoDiscover Alberta provides enhanced details regarding geospatial data in Alberta.

Government of Alberta Open Data – Searchable listing of Government of Alberta open datasets.

Alberta Wildlife Sensitivity Maps – These maps provide information on the locations of sensitive wildlife populations in the Province of Alberta.

Agricultural Regions of Alberta Soil Inventory Database – The Agricultural Regionals of Alberta Soil Inventory Database (AGRASID) is a spatial database of soils for Alberta’s Agricultural area. This database is ideal for regional and field scale land-use assessment and decision making.

Environmentally Significant Areas in Alberta – The Government of Alberta’s 2014 report and datasets representing areas important to the long-term maintenance of biological diversity, soil, water, or other natural processes, at multiple spatial scales.

Bow River Basin State of the Watershed – The Bow River Basin Council developed an online tool to help water managers and users better understand the state of the Bow River Basin Watershed by assessing current conditions and identifying existing and emerging challenges and trends.

Altalis – Established in 1998, Altalis is source of spatial data and imagery in Alberta. Through a joint venture agreement with Alberta Data Partnerships Ltd., Altalis sells mapping products.

Data Basin – A science-based mapping and analysis platform that supports learning, research, and sustainable environmental stewardship. Includes many datasets applicable to natural infrastructure in Alberta.


Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, Surrey, BC – Developed in 2014, this strategy aims to preserve biodiversity in the City of Surrey, recognizing biodiversity as a key foundation of a health, livable and sustainable community. This document includes mapping and inventory of the City’s habitat type and species groups.

Bow River Watershed Conservation Priority Mapping: High-Grading Hydrologically Sensitive Areas – The objective of this project was to map and prioritize natural assets that support health hydrologic functions to facilitate conservation actions.

Ottawa Greenspace Master Plan: Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces - The purpose of this document is to express Council’s vision for greenspace in the urban area and set policies for how this vision can be pursued. Mapping and inventory of their greenspace and related networks is heavily relied upon in this plan.

A Typology of Urban Green Spaces, Ecosystem Services Provisioning Services and Demands – The report outlines the different types of urban green spaces, ecosystem services provisioning and demand for green space as part of the Green Surge Project. This report also provides suggestion on types of inventories of green spaces, as well as the inventory they created, and associated mapping.

Our BiodiverseCity: Calgary’s 10-year biodiversity strategic plan – This plan is based on principles for the protection, development and management of Calgary Parks and ecosystems in support of biodiversity. The plan includes monitoring of ecological integrity in the City, as well as the mapping and scoring of it.

Growing Water Smart: The water-land use nexus – This document provides information and a case study on mapping of all sensitive areas related to watershed health to allow for watershed protection.

Did we miss something?

If you know of a resource that should be on this list - or your municipality has a sample or case that should be here, please let us know!

Thanks for helping us out!

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