North American sagebrush-steppe ecosystems have decreased by about 50 percent since European settlement. As a result, sagebrush-steppe dependent species, such as the Gunnison sage-grouse, have experienced drastic range contractions and population declines. Coordinated ecosystem-wide research, integrated with monitoring and management activities, is needed to help maintain existing sagebrush habitats; however, products that accurately model and map sagebrush habitats in detail over the Gunnison Basin in Colorado are still unavailable. The goal of this project is to provide a rigorous large-area sagebrush habitat classification and inventory with statistically validated products and estimates of precision across the Gunnison Basin. This research employs a combination of methods, including (1) modeling sagebrush rangeland as a series of independent objective components that can be combined and customized by any user at multiple spatial scales; (2) collecting ground measured plot data on 2.4-meter QuickBird satellite imagery in the same season the imagery is acquired; (3) modeling of ground measured data on 2.4-meter imagery to maximize subsequent extrapolation; (4) acquiring multiple seasons (spring, summer, and fall) of Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery (30-meter) for optimal modeling; (5) using regression tree classification technology that optimizes data mining of multiple image dates, ratios, and bands with ancillary data to extrapolate ground training data to coarser resolution Landsat Thematic Mapper; and 6) employing accuracy assessment of model predictions to enable users to understand their dependencies. Results include the prediction of four primary components including percent bare ground, percent herbaceous, percent shrub, and percent litter, and four secondary components including percent sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), percent big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), percent Wyoming sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata wyomingensis), and shrub height (centimeters). Results were validated with an independent accuracy assessment, with root mean square error values ranging from 3.5 (percent big sagebrush) to 10.8 (percent bare ground) at the QuickBird scale, and from 4.5 (percent Wyoming sagebrush) to 12.4 (percent herbaceous) at the full Landsat scale. These results offer significant improvement in sagebrush ecosystem quantification across the Gunnison Basin, and also provide maximum flexibility to users to employ for a wide variety of applications. Further refinement of these remote sensing component predictions in the future will be most likely achieved by focusing on more extensive ground plot sampling, employing new high and moderate-resolution satellite sensors that offer additional spectral bands for vegetation discrimination, and capturing more dates of satellite imagery to better represent phenological variation.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Multiscale sagebrush rangeland habitat modeling in the Gunnison Basin of Colorado
U.S. Geological Survey
Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center