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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #189175

Title: Using unmanned aerial vehicles for rangelands: Current applications and future potentials

item Rango, Albert
item Laliberte, Andrea
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff
item Bestelmeyer, Brandon
item Schmugge, Thomas

Submitted to: Environmental Practice
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/20/2006
Publication Date: 9/1/2006
Citation: Rango, A., Laliberte, A.S., Steele, C., Herrick, J.E., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Schmugge, T.J., Roanhorse, A., Jenkins, V. 2006. Using unmanned aerial vehicles for rangelands: Current applications and future potentials. Environmental Practice. 8:159-168.

Interpretive Summary: High resolution airborne and satellite data have excellent application for determining landscape and ecological state, but until now, there has been a gap where extremely high resolution remote sensing data was not available to be used in rangeland health determinations. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) platforms carrying digital cameras have been used to fill this gap which now allows measurement of gap and patch sizes as well as percentages of bare soil and vegetation cover, critical for determining rangleand health, especially over large and remote areas. The UAVs can provide 5cm or better resolution because of their ability to fly at relatively low altitudes. We envision that these data will allow private land managers, rangeland consultants, and resource management agencies, such as NRCS and BLM to acquire improved data to make appropriate management decisions for local, regional and even national assessments.

Technical Abstract: High resolution aerial photographs have important rangeland applications such as monitoring vegetation change, developing grazing strategies, determining rangeland health, and assessing remediation treatment effectiveness. Acquisition of high resolution images by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has certain advantages over piloted aircraft missions including lower cost, improved safety, flexibility in mission planning, and closer proximity to the target. Different levels of remote sensing data can be combined to provide more comprehensive information: 15-30m resolution imaging from space-borne sensors for determining uniform landscape units; <1m satellite or aircraft data to assess the pattern of ecological states in an area of interest; 5cm UAV images to measure gap and patch sizes as well as percent bare soil and vegetation ground cover; and <1cm ground-based boom photography for ground truth or reference data. Two parallel tracks of investigation are necessary: one which emphasizes the utilization of the most technically advanced sensors for research and a second which emphasizes minimizing costs and maximizing simplicity for monitoring purposes. We envisage that in the future, resource management agencies, rangeland consultants, and private land managers should be able to use small, lightweight UAVs to satisfy their need for acquiring improved data at a reasonable cost and for making appropriate management decisions.