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Late twentieth century land-cover change in the basin and range ecoregions of the United States

July 26, 2012

As part of the US Geological Survey's Land Cover Trends project, land-use/land-cover change estimates between 1973 and 2000 are presented for the basin and range ecoregions, including Northern, Central, Mojave, and Sonoran. Landsat data were employed to estimate and characterize land-cover change from 1973, 1980, 1986, 1992, and 2000 using a post-classification comparison. Overall, spatial change was 2.5% (17,830 km2). Change increased steadily between 1973 and 1986 but decreased slightly between 1992 and 2000. The grassland/shrubland class, frequently used for livestock grazing, constituted the majority of the study area and had a net decrease from an estimated 83.8% (587,024 km2) in 1973 to 82.6% (578,242 km2) in 2000. The most common land-use/land-cover conversions across the basin and range ecoregions were indicative of the changes associated with natural, nonmechanical disturbances (i.e., fire), and grassland/shrubland loss to development, agriculture, and mining. This comprehensive look at contemporary land-use/land-cover change provides critical insight into how the deserts of the United States have changed and can be used to inform adaptive management practices of public lands.