Skip to main content

The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center’s geospatial rangeland products have been known by many names since their initial iterations were released in 2018.

Color image of rangelands with a graphic showing change over time
Image showing an example of the pixel-level time series data available from the USGS Rangeland Condition, Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection (RCMAP) data products.

The rangeland community has referred to them as the “shrub-grass layers,” the :”Back In Time layers,” the “fractional components,” and even the “Homer” layers—a nod to former National Land Cover Database Director Collin Homer, who championed the importance of mapping rangelands by composition prior to his retirement.

The time has come to retire those monikers. EROS is pleased to announce a new name for these products: Rangeland Condition, Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection (RCMAP).

“With the release of new data in just a few short weeks, we felt that it was important to establish the RCMAP name for both current and future users,” said Matt Rigge of the USGS, who leads RCMAP development and production at EROS. “We see these products as a key source of information in the West, and hope users come to associate RCMAP with value, reliability, and accuracy as they work to study, conserve and restore ecosystems.”

RCMAP reflects both the makeup and intended use of these products, which characterize the landscapes of the West in units of percent coverage (0-100%) for each “building block” component of rangeland ecosystems: shrub, sagebrush, bare ground, herbaceous, annual herbaceous, and litter.

RCMAP also provides trends over time for each component, which allows the rangeland community to investigate which areas have seen significant change over the decades. These two factors—rangeland components mapped at 30-meter spatial resolution and year-by-year coverage stretching back more than three decades—make RCMAP a tool well-suited to guide research, land management and conservation decisions across the West.

 A new generation of data that extends the time series to 1985-2020 will be available in early summer 2021. Data are accessible through an interactive map or downloadable through mrlc.gov.  

RCMAP data support inquiries on the effectiveness of land management practices, the impact of and recovery from wildfires, invasive species or climate-related stress, and the habitat potential of rangelands for threatened and endangered wildlife. Data have been widely used by USGS researchers investigating changes in sage grouse habitat and trends, post-fire recovery assessments, and have been integrated into BLM’s Outcome-Based Grazing pilot project at the Winecup-Gamble Ranch.

Animation of Shrubland coverage over time
Animation of change in shrub component coverage, created using the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium's Rangeland Viewer tool. 

RCMAP, USGS, and University of Montana’s Rangelands Analysis Platform data were recently integrated  into the Western Governors' Association’s New Toolkit for Invasive Grass Management, which is useful for land managers working to address the spread of invasive annual grasses.

The RCMAP project has also produced Ecological Potential (EP) cover maps, representing the potential cover in the least disturbed and most productive portion of the Landsat archive. EP data can act as a spatiotemporal reference to assess the effect of treatment efforts.

When compared to contemporary cover, EP data provides maps of cover departure from potential. The spatiotemporal response of the RCAMP time series to weather, soils, and topographic data was leveraged to project component cover through the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s. Future climate data from two climate change scenarios served as inputs to these models.

For an overview of RCMAP products and potential uses, click here to listen to Rigge’s interview on the EROS podcast “Eyes on Earth.”

 

Related Content