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New Google Earth Engine tool maps threats to sage grouse habitat

New interactive, online map combines layers of related data.

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on February 24, 2016 3:35PM

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the University of Montana and other partners announce a new, interactive mapping tool that, for the first time, combines layers of related data to better target invasive species damaging habitat and rangeland in Western states, according to a USDA press release.

The mapping project is part of USDA’s ongoing Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) and presents geospatial data covering a 100-million-acre landscape using Google Earth Engine technology.

The mapping tool is available at map.sagegrouseinitiative.com. It allows farmers, ranchers, conservationists and other partners to analyze data on the encroachment of conifers (such as juniper) and cheatgrass on key rangeland. Additional conservation data layers will be added in coming months that contain information for all 11 Western states.

The newly-created tree canopy cover layer, developed by Michael Falkowski at Colorado State University, shows where conifers are degrading critical sagebrush-steppe across the range. NRCS and partners use the data to target the removal of invading conifers when the trees are young and more easily eradicated. Another layer, already available, provides an index of ecosystem resilience and resistance to cheatgrass based on underlying soil temperature and moisture.

“Bringing this data together in an easy-to-use online resource helps federal, state and private partners better target our work to restore and protect this vast landscape – supporting wildlife and rural economies in Oregon,” said Lars Santana, SGI coordinator for Oregon NRCS. “This is another great example of how using scientific data and technology makes partnerships like the Sage Grouse Initiative more effective.”

Brady Allred, a rangeland specialist with University of Montana, developed the tool for SGI using Google Earth Engine, a platform for scientific analysis and visualization of geospatial datasets, both for public benefit and for business and government users. Allred said he is excited SGI will continue to build on the tool over time.

Public and private land managers can now use the free SGI map tool in planning where and how to best target available resources to achieve the biggest gains in the battle against invasive species.

“By focusing on such a large area, we are able to provide the big picture – a better view of what’s occurring across boundaries, so each effort supports the greater goal and helps reduce future threats,” Allred said.

Each data layer creates a visual representation of available research covering one of the threats targeted by the Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 investment strategy, a four-year $211 million effort to help restore and protect sagebrush habitats in 11 Western states. The strategy guides conservation efforts through 2018.

Since 2010, NRCS has partnered with ranchers to restore and protect more than five million acres of sage grouse habitat across the West through SGI. This work was part of a large landscape-level effort that led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude last year that the sage grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In Oregon, more than 100 ranchers have worked with NRCS to restore 200,000 acres of key sage grouse habitat since 2010. This work has addressed nearly two-thirds of the conifer threat on priority private lands in the state.

NRCS continues to offer conservation technical support and financial incentives to help ranchers install rangeland conservation practices through SGI 2.0. Contact a local USDA Service Center for more information or visit www.or.nrcs.usda.gov.


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