A Changing Landscape: Monitoring Cheatgrass with Satellite Imagery

This is a part of the 2015 Fall VPS. For more VPS articles, click here

Probability map illustrating the predicted probability of cheatgrass cover. Image Credit: Wyoming Ecological Forecasting Team

Probability map illustrating the predicted probability of cheatgrass cover. Image Credit: Wyoming Ecological Forecasting Team

Category: Monitoring Change for Resource Management
Project Team
: Wyoming Ecological Forecasting
Team Location: USGS at Colorado State University – Fort Collins, Colorado

Darin Schulte
Chandra Fowler
Stephanie Krail
Oliver Miltenberger

Dr. Paul Evangelista (Colorado State University, Natural Resource Ecology Lab)
Dr. Amanda West (Colorado State University, Natural Resource Ecology Lab)

The Medicine Bow National Forest (MBNF) consists of approximately 560,000 hectares in South Central Wyoming. Elevation in MBNF ranges from approximately 1,000 m to 4,000 m and results in a relatively wide range of local climate variation, wildlife habitat types, and recreational usage. Dominant plant communities include ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests and sagebrush (Artemesia sp.) steppe. Mammal populations of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), elk (Cervus canadensis), pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), and moose (Alces alces), constitute important ecological and economic management concerns within the National Forest. In 2012, the Arapaho Fire burned approximately 40,000 hectares of land within MBNF. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), an invasive plant species in the Western U.S., is known to rapidly colonize disturbed sites and dramatically alter historic fire regimes and nutrient/water dynamics, and outcompete native plant species. The Arapaho Fire burned in areas managed as critical habitat, as defined by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), for several wildlife species and the targeted reduction of cheatgrass cover in the region is a priority. To facilitate management practices conducted by project partners, we created a cheatgrass landcover map and phenological profile for the study area using Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Scanner (TIRS) and Terra Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data from the 2015 growing season. The team used a series of vegetation and topographic indices as predictors of cheatgrass cover as well as field data to construct a Species Distribution Model (SDM) for the Arapaho Fire site. The phenological profile for predicted cheatgrass locations was estimated using Landsat 8 OLI and Terra MODIS data for targeted aerial herbicide spraying.

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Brian Woodward 12-01-2016, 17:50

Congratulations, Wyoming Ecological Forecasting Team! I am proud of each and every one of you.


Jeff May 16-12-2015, 11:00

Great video and very important research! Can you please elaborate on the field methods used to determine cheatgrass presence? Additionally, was your final model validated. If so, what was the accuracy for the cheatgrass class as well as the model overall?

Brian Woodward 07-12-2015, 11:49

Hi Daryl Ann,

With more field data collection points, we likely would have an improved model. Although the field data provided to us was of excellent quality, it wouldn’t have hurt to have a few more data points to train our model with. Please let me know if you have any additional questions!


Daryl Ann Winstead 07-12-2015, 12:32

Gotcha! Thanks!

Leigh Sinclair 01-12-2015, 21:03

Neat! Did you look into to see what the cheatgrass probability may look like in the future if current cheatgrass management practices were not effective?

Brian Woodward 07-12-2015, 11:44

Hi Leigh,

We didn’t forecast cheatgrass presence through time in this project, but it is certainly something we are interested in doing in the future. Thanks for the questions!


Peru Climate 01-12-2015, 13:24

Great video! Do you know how effective the current cheatgrass management practices have been?

Brian Woodward 07-12-2015, 11:46

Hi Peru Climate,

Since the Arapaho Wildfire occurred, very little cheatgrass management has started in the area. The grant funded management project that the USFS is working on will be supported through the data produced in this project, and will likely begin in 2016. Great questions!


Daryl Ann Winstead 25-11-2015, 22:18

Great video! Very informative and visually appealing! What were some errors or uncertainties that the project encountered?


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