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Research Project: Understanding Ecological, Hydrological, and Erosion Processes in the Semiarid Southwest to Improve Watershed Management

Location: Southwest Watershed Research Center

Title: Rangeland Brush Estimation Tool (RaBET): An operational remote sensing-based application for quantifying woody cover on western rangelands

item Holifield Collins, Chandra
item SKIRVIN, S. - University Of Arizona
item Kautz, Mark
item WINSTON, Z. - University Of Arizona
item CURLEY, D. - University Of Arizona
item CORRALES, A. - University Of Arizona
item BISHOP, A. - Rainwater Basin Joint Venture
item BISHOP, N. - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item NORTON, C. - University Of Arizona
item PONCE-CAMPOS, G. - University Of Arizona
item Armendariz, Gerardo
item METZ, L. - University Of Arizona
item Heilman, Philip - Phil
item VAN LEEUWEN, W. - University Of Arizona

Submitted to: Remote Sensing
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/19/2023
Publication Date: 11/25/2023
Citation: Holifield Collins, C.D., Skirvin, S., Kautz, M.A., Winston, Z., Curley, D., Corrales, A., Bishop, A., Bishop, N., Norton, C., Ponce-Campos, G., Armendariz, G.A., Metz, L., Heilman, P., Van Leeuwen, W. 2023. Rangeland Brush Estimation Tool (RaBET): An operational remote sensing-based application for quantifying woody cover on western rangelands. Remote Sensing. 15(21). Article 510.

Interpretive Summary: Much of the western United States is covered by rangelands used for grazing and wildlife. Woody plants are increasing in areas historically covered by grasslands and can cause numerous problems, including losses in wildlife habitat, forage for grazing, and overall losses in soil health. Land managers and conservationists are working to control these increases in woody plants, but need tools to help with targeting areas to focus efforts and resources where they are most needed. The goals of this work were to develop RaBET (Rangeland Brush Estimation Tool), a web tool using free satellite imagery, to estimate woody plant or brush coverage and compare it to other tools currently available. Traditional field methods of plant measures were also compared with methods using aircraft-based photography to decrease the amount of time and resources needed to collect these measurements. RaBET performed better than the other tools for a large majority of the areas studied, and there were promising results for using aerial methods for measuring woody plant cover. RaBET presents a free, user-friendly tool for obtaining repeatable, accurate measures of woody cover to aid land managers and conservationists in the control of woody plants on rangelands.

Technical Abstract: Over 160 million hectares of rangelands in the central and western United States depend on effective management of woody species, including eradication, to maintain sustainability and ecological function. Land managers need an efficient, repeatable way to determine woody canopy cover at scales appropriate for planning to employ brush management conservation practices. The goals of this work were to develop the Rangeland Brush Estimation Tool (RaBET) woody cover mapping application, and to compare its output with two currently available tools, the Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP) and the Landscape Cover Analysis and Reporting Tool (LandCART). RaBET woody canopy cover maps were derived from 30 m pixel Landsat imagery (1997-2021) using regressions specific to each of 15 Major Land Resource Areas (MLRA). In field scale woody cover estimates, RaBET outperformed RAP and LandCART for 12 out of 15 MLRAs. Woody cover was compared between ground-based transect data and 10 cm aerial imagery to assess the effectiveness of high-resolution imagery use over traditional field methods. A strong relationship existed between ground-based and 10 cm imagery-measured woody cover, but not between ground-based and RaBET, RAP, or LandCART map estimated woody cover. RaBET uses transparent, repeatable methods and delivers woody canopy cover maps at field scales suited for conservation planning by land managers and conservation effects assessments on rangelands.