Landscape and Habitat Assessment

Science Center Objects

A central focus of this program is to conduct multi-scale assessments in order to develop related geospatial decision-support tools and methods. The program includes synthesizing broad-scale datasets and developing innovative approaches to assess the vulnerability and resilience of wildlife habitats and ecosystems, relative to land management decisions and ecosystem stressors on Department of the Interior and other public lands. Recent work includes quantifying the cumulative effects of land uses, climate change, and invasive species across broad ecoregions and for the western U.S. The primary goal is to adapt and translate the most promising cutting-edge techniques into accessible geospatial assessment tools, that further advance the integration of analyses and results across temporal and spatial scales. FORT scientists work collaboratively with natural resource managers to ensure that the science is relevant and meets the needs of land managers.

Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos

A Golden Eagle. Photo by: Brian A. Millsap, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain.




Assessing Threats to Conservation Priority Areas in State Wildlife Action Plans

States across the U.S. have developed Wildlife Action Plans, with the purpose of preventing future listings under the federal Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss and fragmentation are key threats to wildlife in the U.S., and housing development is a major driver of both. USGS is working to quantify the vulnerability of and threat to priority areas in State Wildlife Action Plans from future housing development to help inform effective and efficient targeting of conservation actions.




Image: Tortoise Survival

A large male Agassiz's desert tortoise photographed near Palm Springs, California.  Parts of Sonoran Desert may become unsuitable for tortoise survival due to climate and drought. Photo by: Kathie Meyer. Public domain.






Informing Habitat Management for Desert Tortoise

There is increasing support for adopting landscape approaches to resource management, including monitoring threats that affect multiple resources across broad extents. However, there remains a need to assess potential threats to individual species of conservation concern. USGS is evaluating the extent to which a generalized indicator of terrestrial development can be used to inform and evaluate conservation actions seeking to protect habitat for the Mojave and Sonoran desert tortoise.




Image: Roosevelt National Forest

Scenic view of Roosevelt National Forest. Photo by: John J. Mosesso, USGS. Public domain.

Quantifying Ecological Integrity in Terrestrial systems

Ecological integrity describes the condition of ecological systems, and has been quantified in aquatic systems for decades. The U.S. Forest Service is now required to monitor ecological integrity, and the Bureau of Land Management has an interest in doing so as well. As a result, USGS is working to define and quantify the concept of ecological integrity in terrestrial, multiple use landscapes to help managers and the public to gain a broader understanding of the condition of ecological systems across federal lands.




Image: Mountain Goat

A mountain goat observed during a survey in the Olympic Mountain of Washington State. Photo by National Park Service. Public domain.



Higher and Farther: Patterns of Development within Protected Areas

There is a well-known bias in the location of protected areas both within the US and globally. Lands protected for conservation tend to located on less productive soils at high elevations far from cities. USGS is exploring whether this ‘high and far’ paradigm applies within protected areas as well. That is, does human modification within lands that already have some degree of protection also occur preferentially on more productive soils at low elevations close to cities?


A male sage grouse struts his stuff on the sage steppe.

A male sage grouse struts his stuff on the sage steppe. USGS photo. Public domain.



Developing Broad Scale Indicators for Monitoring Ecosystems and Landscapes

Many issues currently facing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other large land managers span large landscapes, including sage-grouse conservation, wildfires, and energy development. Such challenges involve changes at both local and broad scales, but monitoring has typically focused at the scale of individual sites. The USGS is working to develop broad-scale indicators for monitoring landscapes and to standardize methods and datasets for quantifying the broad-scale indicators.




Greater Sage Grouse Hen with Brood on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

A hen greater sage grouse and her brood head to Seedskadee NWR wetlands to spend the day. Photo by: Tom Koerner, USFWS. Public domain.

Science Support for Implementing a Landscape Approach to Resource Management in the Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is committed to implementing a landscape approach to resource management to help achieve sustainable social, environmental, and economic outcomes on the public lands it manages. USGS is providing science support for the effort, including identifying core principles of a landscape approach, demonstrating the benefits of multiscale data for evaluating potential effects of management decisions, and highlighting questions that need to be answered at ecoregional scales to inform future actions.