"A Hard Way to Make a Living": Monitoring Natural Resources Land-Cover, Land-Use Change in the Northwestern Great Plains Ecoregion

Authors: Roger Auch*, United States Geological Survey, Kristi Sayler, United States Geological Survey
Topics: Land Use and Land Cover Change, Regional Geography, Remote Sensing
Keywords: Northwestern Great Plains Ecoregion, land-use/land-cover change, LCMAP, annual land cover, natural resource monitoring
Session Type: Paper


Land-use practitioners in the Northwestern Great Plains Ecoregion rely almost exclusively on the natural resources found in the region. Since the beginning of Euro-American settlement in the opening years of the 20th century, cattle ranching on the ecoregion’s grasslands has been the predominant land use, followed by the secondary presence of semi-arid small grain farming, primarily wheat. Ranchers in this ecoregion have established sustained and substantial cow-calf production operations, as mapped out in USDA county data, yet are often at the mercies of intra-annual climatic variability, most notably drought conditions. This study compares two U.S. Geological Survey land-cover mapping efforts in the similarities and differences in the proportional amount of change found across time. The Land Cover Trends project used episodic “snapshot in time” mapping to look at change whereas the new Land Cover Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection (LCMAP) initiative produces annual land cover results that allow a finer temporal aspect for detecting change. Preliminary analysis indicates that Land Cover Trends found more land-use types of change (e.g. “agriculture to grassland/shrubland and “grassland/shrubland to agriculture”) and LCMAP characterized more land-cover condition types of change (e.g. “grassland/shrubland to ‘no-fit’” and “‘no-fit’ to grassland/shrubland” with “no-fit” usually some sort of perturbation that has caused the expected seasonal spectral model to break). The provisional LCMAP results appear to give land change researchers greater access to seeing a more dynamic land cover landscape compared to earlier products.

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