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Multi-agency Project Uses Lidar to Assess Risks, Ecosystem Restoration

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 9:26 am / July 20, 2016

Lidar image of river and canyon.

Boise State University (lead), along with Nez Perce County, Nez Perce Tribe and the Idaho Office of Emergency Management, was awarded $244,000 from the U.S. Geological Survey 3D Elevation Program for a project titled “Multi-hazard Risk Assessment and Ecosystem Restoration in Idaho: Nez Perce Tribe, Nez Perce County, and Clearwater Watershed.”

The project will collect lidar (three-dimensional information about the land surface) to assess post-fire hazards, including landslides and floods, and ecosystem rehabilitation in the Clearwater region in North Idaho.

Lidar image of terrain.“Boise State provides capacity-building by working throughout the state across jurisdictions and lending expertise on lidar needs and planning for community use,” said Nancy Glenn, a principal investigator on the project and a Boise State professor of geosciences. “Also, we are leading the statewide effort in coordination of lidar data through operation of the Idaho Lidar Consortium and developing a statewide plan to acquire lidar for the whole state of Idaho.”

“The Clearwater lidar acquisition is a project that Bill Reynolds (Nez Perce County GIS coordinator) and I have been working toward for several years now,” said Allison Tompkins, Nez Perce County planner. “For me it began out of a desperate need for updated FEMA flood insurance rate maps, although Nez Perce County also intends to use the data to provide landslide and fire hazard risk assessments, and improve the accuracy of aerial imagery.”

The data also could be used to provide more accurate information for project development and engineering, and assist with watershed management, the design of landfills and roads, and more.

Once the project was awarded, Tompkins coordinated with multiple project partners to contribute funding to acquire lidar data for their agencies and jurisdictions located close to the Clearwater. Additional partners include:

  • Idaho Department of Lands
  • City of Lewiston
  • Port of Lewiston
  • Lewiston Metropolitan Planning Organization
  • Idaho Department of Transportation
  • Asotin County
  • Asotin Public Utility District
  • Asotin Metropolitan Planning Organization
  • FEMA Headquarters
  • FEMA Region X
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service­–National Geospatial Center of Excellence
  • United States Forest Service

The large multi-agency project has now grown to more than $900,000 in funding for lidar data, which will be collected in fall 2016. Boise State University will host the data on the Idaho Lidar Consortium (

This project is an example of how multiple agencies can pool resources for a common goal.

Tom Carlson, the USGS national map liaison, helps facilitate partnerships such as these and provides an interface between the state, local partners and the federal government.

“This project is significant in that it is the first 3D Elevation Program project undertaken in the State of Idaho. Not only will it provide needed Lidar data to the state of Idaho and the nation, but it also raises much-needed awareness at the local level of partnership opportunities of the USGS 3DEP program,” he said. “The contributions of partners at the local, state, tribal and federal level are what drives the program and makes it work.”