Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative: Inventory and Long-Term Monitoring

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The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) addresses effects of land-use and climate changes on Southwest Wyoming’s natural resources. In partnership with twelve Federal, State, and local natural resource agencies, and non-governmental organizations– FORT and ten other USGS centers are conducting dozens of integrated science projects to assess the status of Southwest Wyoming’s natural resources, the efficacy of habitat management projects, and effects of energy development on wildlife and socioeconomics. We’re also developing protocols for region-level monitoring long-term vegetation trends and modeling future resource conditions. Associated outreach highlights include developing online tools and data resources to support natural resource planning and management, and the efforts of FORT’s WLCI liaison, who spearheads WLCI Science Conferences and integrates science with WLCI management and conservation activities.

The beautiful Wyoming sky over the Oregon Buttes.

The beautiful Wyoming sky over the Oregon Buttes. Photo by Sam Cox. 

Across Southwest Wyoming, there is increasing concern that energy development and climate change will significantly alter the region’s habitats, thus putting the region’s world-class wildlife populations at risk of decline. To provide accurate condition estimates across a large region, and to subsequently monitor changes in conditions, a representative sample of resources is required. This landscape, like most, is highly variable due to differences in natural and anthropogenic environmental factors, such as topography, climate, and land-use. To this end, we are investigating application of landscape-scale framework for assessing status and trends in resource conditions; characterizing potential “indicators” that have properties conducive to monitoring and also representative of habitat conditions and ecosystem function; and developing fine-scale mapping and change–detecting, remote sensing techniques for vegetation.

We are working with partners to develop a monitoring framework that provides the spatial representation required for measuring the condition of priority habitats, wildlife populations, ecosystems, and related variables across this large and varied landscape. On-the-ground data collection, model simulations, and statistical analyses of the power of selected indicators will be conducted to test the potential of sampling designs to meet long-term monitoring objectives for Southwest Wyoming. Providing direct support for affordable monitoring, the remote sensing work contributes to developing methods to repeatedly project estimates of continuous vegetation cover, with separation of major vegetation types. Using both field-collected and remotely sensed data, we will evaluate variability in these habitat measures and how they change over time. Combined, the different elements of this task will help natural resource managers and policymakers amass the multiple levels of information needed to understand the collective condition of Southwest Wyoming’s public lands, and to apply that information for better conserving habitats and wildlife populations in the face of significant changes.