Characterization of Ecological Integrity of Commercially Grazed Rangelands Using Remote Sensing-based Ecological Indicators

EPA Grant Number: R826112
Title: Characterization of Ecological Integrity of Commercially Grazed Rangelands Using Remote Sensing-based Ecological Indicators
Investigators: West, Neil E. , Ramsey, R. Douglas
Current Investigators: West, Neil E. , Ramsey, R. Douglas , Washington-Allen, Robert
Institution: Utah State University
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: November 1, 1997 through September 30, 1999
Project Amount: $340,617
RFA: Ecosystem Indicators (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Ecosystems


Rangelands involve vast areas of the western U.S. with arid to semi-arid climates. Their low biological productivity has made point-based monitoring of the ecological status difficult to economically justify. We will test several remote sensing (RS) based synoptic means of characterizing changes in the integrity of lands on one large ranch in northern Utah.

We will test the applicability of a transition threshold conceptual model, using satellite remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) to characterize rangeland conditions and trends.


The proposed research will use 21 years of Landsat satellite imagery; a GIS database of site biological, physical, historical and current ranch management records; and use multiple-time by nested multiple-scale experimental design to establish causal links between possible threshold response and human management interventions in order to assess the ecological integrity of ecosystems within a Western Intermountain Sagebrush Steppe dominated landscape subject to commercial livestock and big game animal grazing.

The Assessment will occur at multiple scales including: landscape, watershed, administrative (i.e., public versus private land), individual paddock, ecological site, and piosphere (waterpoints). Watersheds and sub-basins will be delineated using digital elevation models and GIS-based hydrological modeling algorithms. The resulting landscape stratification of geomorphological source, sink, and transfer zones, will be statistically related to satellite-image derived indices of vegetation cover and composition, soil erosion, and landscape configuration metrics, and will result in an overall measure of site ecological integrity and sustainability.

Expected Results:

The proposed research will result in (1) new RS-based ecological indices for assessing ecological integrity; (2) a synthesis of the new transition threshold concept in rangeland ecology, landscape ecology and ecosystem science which will link spatio-temporal changes in ecosystem structure and pattern to changes in rangeland condition and trend; (3) a general methodology for using satellite RS and GIS technologies with current ecological assessment concepts for monitoring semi-arid landscapes at multiple spatial scales. The developed GIS database will also make possible future studies concerning water quality, socio-economics, biodiversity and wildlife management; and finally this research will provide (4) a validation of the utility of remote sensing-based piosphere indices in North America.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 28 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

rangeland condition, rangeland trend, rangeland health, synoptic monitoring, landscape metrics, geographic information systems, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Water & Watershed, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, State, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Monitoring, Ecology and Ecosystems, Watersheds, Ecological Indicators, agricultural watershed, ecosystem integrity, Midwestern Watersheds, Utah (UT), terrestrial, ecosystem indicators, commercial rangeland, aquatic ecosystems, GIS, water quality, synoptic monitoring, multiscale assessment, agriculture ecosystems

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1998
  • Final Report