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Remarks on the National Geospatial Program
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MS: Good morningógood afternoon, everyone. Iím so delighted to be here with you today and part of this celebration. It really is a treat. And Iím very proud to represent the Department of the Interior and especially our secretary, Ken Salazar. Serving as the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science has given me an unparalleled opportunity to help the Obama administration and the secretary move forward to bring sound science to our policy and decision-making in ways that our country really urgently needs. Iím very pleased and honored today to be in the presence of all these mapping professionals and the retirees who were introduced and those other retirees in the audience who have helped make this national mapping program possible.

I salute your service, all of you, and I thank you for it. And please know that Secretary Salazar appreciates your efforts as well. And as Bob said, I owe you a personal thanks, because I have used many, many times your USGS topographic 7.5 minute quadrangle maps. I use them for backpacking in the Rocky Mountains and I use them to decorate my office in Denver, Colorado, where I was practicing law. My personal decorating scheme was to use the USGS quad maps instead of pictures because they were cheaper. And the first thing I always did when I opened a new case file was to order the USGS quad maps so that I could really get the lay of the land.

So I want to thank you personally for that. Over the time that Iíve been using the USGS topo maps, theyíve gotten better, more detailed, more up to date, and more accessible, than ever before. In the past quarter century, digital technologies have really transformed topographic mapping science, and that has enabled the USGS to construct the electronic national map that we have today. To celebrate our legacy of 125 years of topographic mapping, as was mentioned, we are today announcing a new type of digital topographic map that can be printed by users, and a new online viewer system.

And youíll be hearing more about both of those in todayís program. Weíre going to learn a lot more about the 125 year legacy of the USGS mapping program, and weíll see first-hand these new products that represent great strides in mapping technology. As the first speaker to you this afternoon, I have the opportunity to frame our celebration, and Iíd like to broaden our discussion a bit. I want to talk to you for just a few minutes about the benefits that a national mapping program brings to our country. We often hear, and weíll hear today, that a comprehensive national mapping system is very important, itís vitally important.

And of course we all know thatís right. But maps arenít just important for their own sake. Geographic information and maps are tools that enable us to do other tasks, like build highways, carry out a census, search for minerals, search for lost people, protect lands with cultural and environmental significance, or simply hike to a hidden lake, and in my case, get yourself back out again. As the nationís lead mapping organization, a fundamental duty for the US Geological Survey has been, and continues to be, ensuring the availability of complete, consistent, and current based geographic information.

And that base informational framework, whether itís in the form of paper maps or electronic data, that provides a common starting point of geographic knowledge thatís used by government, by industry, and the general public. Sound geographic knowledge has always been a basic requirement for an effective government. That was recognized by the Continental Congress back in 1781. That Congress appointed a geographer of the United States, even before the Revolutionary War had ended. President Thomas Jefferson recognized this need, too, when, in the early days of our country, he instructed the Lewis and Clarke expedition to begin to find and to carefully map a river route to the Pacific.

When that expeditionís accomplishments were published, they were published in a map of the track of the expedition in 1814 in Philadelphia, and that was really our first national map. John Wesley Powell, who was the second director of the USGS, he recognized the need for base mapping information when he asked Congress in 1884 to authorize a comprehensive national mapping program, and they did so, on December 5th, 1884, 125 years ago. Thatís what weíre here celebrating today. Following in step with modern advances in cartographic and computer technologies, and with the evolution of John Wesley Powellís vision, todayís national map is an electronic compilation of multiple layers of geographic data.

And those layers and the data within them are provided by many different partners. The layers include highways and streams and rivers and cities and land use and crop cover and ownership and taxing districts. And the list can go on and on. But the nationally standardized base framework of geographic data, thatís what makes it possible for all the layered information to be utilized. And it also makes it possible for scientists to discover relationships between phenomena and processes that would otherwise appear totally independent.

When our USGS geographic information is enhanced through private enterprise, it forms the basis for a huge number of commercial products. The navigation services and the electronic mapping that we see on the internet, those are based on USGS base mapping. And the personal navigation devices that many of us have in our cars that are saviors in a new city, those are also based on this geographic framework. Emergency management and response across the nation is strengthened through widely available and nationally consistent geographic information and technology.

Having that information at our fingertips facilitates rapid response, good communication, and improves decision making in times of crisis like earthquakes or hurricanes or even acts of terrorism. And thereís one further important benefit to a national mapping program that canít really be described as scientific. But John Wesley Powell wasnít just a man of science and a geographer and a geologist. He was also a humanist, and he was interested in ethnography and languages, and he appreciated native cultures. He would have appreciated the fact that the detailed picture of the nation that a comprehensive national map provides enables every American to have a shared perspective and a common geographic vocabulary.

These are important things that bind us together in ways that we hardly even realize. Again, Iím so pleased to be here with you today for this wonderful celebration. And Iím honored to work with all of you that have made this national program of topographic maps possible. I thank you for your contributions. You should be very proud. Thank you. [applause]


Title: Remarks on the National Geospatial Program


On December 3, 2009, more than 300 people gathered at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) headquarters in Reston, Virginia, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of USGS topographic mapping. The ceremony opened with a special production by Duke Ellington School of the Arts Concert Chorale, and continued with presentations featuring discussions:

  • on the benefits of topographic maps,
  • the history of USGS topographic mapping,
  • the announcement of the new USGS digital topographic map product (US Topo)
  • the introduction of the new National Map Viewer  
  • advise on future directions from Dr. David Cowan
  • and concluded with some special award presentations and a display of historic pictures and artifacts

Location: Reston, VA, USA

Date Taken: 12/3/2009

Length: 8:49

Video Producer: U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.


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