A Changing Landscape: Monitoring Cheatgrass with Satellite Imagery

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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

Authors:
Darin Schulte
Chandra Fowler
Stephanie Krail
Oliver Miltenberger

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

Abstract:
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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