Only a handful of people still working in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) field remember when this new technology was just taking root in Texas government. One of the individuals that certainly made his mark in Texas GIS is our longtime friend and active member of the GIS community, Dr. Kim Ludeke. Kim officially retired from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) on Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 after serving 28 years in state government.
Although Kim spent most of his career with TPWD, he spent several of those years at TNRIS helping to develop one of the first modern GIS environments in the state.
We had an opportunity to talk to Kim about his career and his time in GIS at the state and here’s what he had to say:
TNRIS: Where did you grow up?
Kim: I grew up on a ranch on the banks of the Red River in Wichita County, Texas. I remember working hard. I milked a cow before school, spent summers on a tractor plowing and clearing brush, helped work cattle, built fences, and the usual work of a farm/ranch kid. Going to school was a respite. In high school we started getting officers' kids from the nearby Sheppard Air Force Base as classmates and I was intrigued by their more global experiences and perspectives. In 1967 our family went to the World's Fair in Montreal and that opened me up to the broader world in a big way.
T: Where did you get your education?
K: The summer before my freshman year at UT I spent 3 weeks in a village 6 hours by mule from the nearest road in the mountains of Honduras where I provided vaccinations and minor medical care to the village of Soledad. I graduated from UT in Plan II Liberal Arts Honors/biology. A great contribution to my education was after graduation I spent 2 years traveling, first to Mexico, Central and South America, and then Europe, the Middle East, Indo-Asia, and South East Asia. I worked briefly in Bangladesh as part of the global success in eradicating smallpox. I then returned to UT for a semester of secondary science education training. I followed up that with getting a Ph.D at Texas A&M in Conservation Planning. I also taught graduate GIS courses at UT and Texas State which were always an education for me too.
T: How did you arrive in this industry? What path brought you here?
K: When I entered TAMU I was interested in remote sensing having been introduced by a group taking a course when I was a Park Ranger in New Mexico. One of the new Ph.D faculty at TAMU, Dr. Robert Maggio, suggested I take a course with him on a new field worth exploring -- GIS. So the spring of 1981 I took a special topics course with Dr. Maggio. I believe I was the first student in Texas to take a GIS course. I then applied GIS, remote sensing, and spatial statistics to my dissertation research on tropical deforestation in Honduras--perhaps the first use of GIS in a dissertation in Texas. After graduation I was fortunate to get hired by Dr. Charles Palmer at TNRIS. Richard Wade and I were then taught pcARCINFO by Jim Scott so we could do the GIS mapping and analyses for the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan. After 5 years at TNRIS I was hired to start the GIS Lab at TPWD.
T: How long have you been practicing GIS?
K: Since 1981.
T: What influences did you have that shaped the person you are today?
K: The work ethic learned early on the ranch on the Red. The exposure to the larger world out there through travel instilled in me a love of geograpy. Being raised in the country I developed an early love of the natural world. Our ranch had been the horse ranch for the legendary 6666 Ranch and then was part of the historic North West Oil Field. I early on observed the negative impact man could have on the natural world--as we tried to restore land and water damaged by unregulated oil production to productive farm and ranch land.
T: What was the single biggest challenge you faced in your work with GIS in the State?
K: Getting the appropriate data for the work at hand. When I first started one had to digitize every map (the kindergarten skill of tracing). Sufficient funding has been and remains a challenge. Another challenge is to educate management of the need for support. GIS can sell itself but sometimes we make it look too easy . The availability of data can certainly facilitate work but without data what might take 1/2 day might actually take years to first develop the data. We have to not over sell given this reality.
K: Seeing how far the technology has come, how much geospatial data we have developed, and working with dedicated GIS professionals a number of whom started as interns at TNRIS and at TPWD.
T: What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?
K: Having the opportunity to get GIS started at TPWD and managing the team that developed the Vegetation Communities Map of Texas and accompanying database. Also, Chairing the Texas Geographic Information Council and being part of the Texas GIS community which has developed amazing base data for Texas over the years.
One of my early projects of which I am very proud is the work Richard Wade and I did in support of the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan. We did mapping and spatial analysis of the various preserve configurations.
T: What will you remember most about your career?
K: The people and how lucky I have been!
T: Where can we find you when you’re not working? What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend or a Sunday afternoon?
K: I love to hike in wilderness!
T: Any awards or medals, or even medallions? Personal okay, too.
K: Being invited into the Plan II honors program at UT. Getting selected as a freshman orientation advisor at UT. Getting the Tom and Ruth Rivers Scholarship at TAMU which paid for me to travel to a conference in Stockholm. Being selected twice as a Student Committe on National Affairs delegate at TAMU. Getting over 170 primary citations of my dissertation research refereed publication. Getting invited by the Sichuan Forestry Research Institute to provide technology transfer in GIS and GPS.
T: What does the next chapter in your life have in store for you?
K: Volunteering at TPWD. Hiking in wilderness. Travel. Reading. Volunteering at Austin City Limits and KUT.
One thing is certain, Kim’s contributions to GIS at TPWD and the state of Texas will be recognized for many more years than his time in public service.
Kim, from all your friends in the GIS community, we wish you all the best and we hope that our actions moving forward will make you proud.
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