Sagebrush-steppe ecosystems in North America have experienced dramatic elimination and degradation since European settlement. As a result, sagebrush-steppe dependent species have experienced drastic range contractions and population declines. Coordinated ecosystem-wide research, integrated with monitoring and management activities, would improve the ability to maintain existing sagebrush habitats. However, current data only identify resource availability locally, with rigorous spatial tools and models that accurately model and map sagebrush habitats over large areas still unavailable. Here we report on an effort to produce a rigorous large-area sagebrush-habitat classification and inventory with statistically validated products and estimates of precision in the State of Wyoming. This research employs a combination of significant new tools, including (1) modeling sagebrush rangeland as a series of independent continuous field components that can be combined and customized by any user at multiple spatial scales; (2) collecting ground-measured plot data on 2.4-meter imagery in the same season the satellite imagery is acquired; (3) effective modeling of ground-measured data on 2.4-meter imagery to maximize subsequent extrapolation; (4) acquiring multiple seasons (spring, summer, and fall) of an additional two spatial scales of imagery (30 meter and 56 meter) for optimal large-area 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 sensors; and (6) employing rigorous accuracy assessment of model predictions to enable users to understand the inherent uncertainties. First-phase results modeled eight rangeland components (four primary targets and four secondary targets) as continuous field predictions. The primary targets included percent bare ground, percent herbaceousness, percent shrub, and percent litter. The four secondary targets included percent sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), percent big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), percent Wyoming sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata wyomingensis), and sagebrush height (centimeters). Results were validated by an independent accuracy assessment with root mean square error (RMSE) values ranging from 6.38 percent for bare ground to 2.99 percent for sagebrush at the QuickBird scale and RMSE values ranging from 12.07 percent for bare ground to 6.34 percent for sagebrush at the full Landsat scale. Subsequent project phases are now in progress, with plans to deliver products that improve accuracies of existing components, model new components, complete models over larger areas, track changes over time (from 1988 to 2007), and ultimately model wildlife population trends against these changes. We believe these results offer significant improvement in sagebrush rangeland quantification at multiple scales and offer users products that have been rigorously validated.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Multiscale sagebrush rangeland habitat modeling in southwest Wyoming
U.S. Geological Survey
Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center