In 1990, Charles Convis began to invite anyone interested in Conservation and GIS to attend the Esri User Conference, waiving the conference fees and setting up backyard tents and potlucks to make it affordable. In 1991, enough conservation GIS people showed up to allow Charles to organize the first of many dedicated conservation GIS tracks at the Esri User Conference and the first “Conservation Users Special Interest Group” open meeting. As these community efforts took off, Charles continued to work on providing resources to non-profit groups such as technology donations, organizing and distributing donations of Esri software, training, books and data under what was and still is called the Esri Conservation Program.
In 1991, the initial charter was written to outline the basic structure and mission of an international conservation support organization consisting of volunteers linked by email and the internet, providing technology support and collaborating to help create standards for conservation GIS. The organization would focus on low-tech approaches and a services-oriented ethic designed to assist small grass-roots organizations around the world.
In 1992, the Conservation Special Interest Group grew to include over 60 member organizations, with close to 100 participants presenting 40 papers. This Conservation Group clearly filled a void and was also able to provide equipment and funds necessary for many conservation agencies to reach their goals with GIS and computer technology. At the 1993 Esri International User Conference – in which the Group doubled its participants and papers – it was determined that there was a need to convert the Group into an international consortium with its own independent organizational structure such as a non-profit association. Thus, the Conservation GIS Consortium (CGISC) was created.
The Consortium provided GIS services to the conservation community and became instrumental in managing and administering several important GIS funding programs. Simultaneously, an internet discussion group called CONSGIS was created due to the support and efforts of Dr. Peter August and the University of Maryland. This discussion group was the precursor to the active SCGIS listserve community that we know and use today.
The Conservation GIS Consortium continued to thrive, and with grants from Esri, Hewlett-Packard, the Smithsonian, and five other hardware and software vendors, the Conservation Technology Support Program (CTSP) was created and launched in 1995. In addition, attendance at the Esri International User Conference continued to grow along with relationships and networks. As time passed, it became clear that there was a need for more formality and organization between the groups and programs that had been created.
In 1997, the Society for Conservation GIS (SCGIS) was created and hosted its first annual conference. The conference featured 16 authoritative and scientific papers covering a wide range of conservation GIS topics, and attracted almost 100 participants. From the poster session to the Sunday night campfire, the conference was a success in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, it was at this conference that the group formally agreed to form a non-profit organization. With the creation of an interim board of directors and the assignment of committee chairs, SCGIS as we know it today was formed!
Tasked with developing the organization from nearly the ground up – from bylaws and fundraising to website development and creating support for international colleagues – the members laid the foundation for the successful SCGIS from which we continue to benefit. True to its initial goals, SCGIS continues to assist conservationists in using GIS and technology effectively and efficiently worldwide by encouraging and supporting open communication, networking, scholarships, and training.
In 2017, SCGIS celebrated its 20th annual conference with the theme “SCGIS Turns 20: A Look at the Past, Present, and Future of Conservation GIS” and produced its first annual report and accompanying story map.