University of Wisconsin–Madison

Wisconsin Geospatial News

WGNHS map sales office to close on December 30, 2019

The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS) plans to close its map sales office on December 30, 2019. After that date, users will need to go elsewhere to obtain paper copies of maps. According to WGNHS staff, after that date there may still be an inventory of unsold maps on site, which the Survey has not fully resolved what to do with it yet.

Of particular note are the US Geological Survey (USGS) paper topographic maps, which many users have long obtained from the WGNHS map sales office. This seems like an opportune time to point out that these maps are no longer the most current USGS topographic maps available. Unless your interests are primarily historical, you should be using USGS “US Topos” since the older paper maps are in many cases decades out-of-date.

US Topos are digital topographic maps produced by the USGS and delivered digital format. They have replaced the USGS’s legacy paper topographic maps. US Topos support more frequent updating and broader public distribution of data and provide other advantages over traditional paper topographic maps. The term “US Topo” refers specifically to topographic maps published in 2009 and later that are mass produced from national GIS databases on a repeating cycle. For more information see this USGS publication.

For a detailed handbook on using US Topos — including access, viewing and printing methods — see this SCO Technical Publication, which has been recently updated to reflect the newest changes to US Topos. Since US Topos are digital products in geospatial PDF format, they have many useful features, including the following:

  • Contain layers that can be turned on and off to customize the map
  • Contain an orthophoto (rectified aerial photograph) base layer that can be turned on and off
  • Are updated on a three year cycle
  • Can be downloaded for free from the web
  • Can be printed from a personal computer (the whole map or a selected area)
  • Are in the public domain with no copyright restrictions or fee
  • Can be viewed using free software
  • Do not require GIS software or expertise to utilize

And for those of you who do need historical USGS topos, the good news is that these have been scanned and are also available online for free download. Details can be found in the aforementioned SCO Technical Publication.