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1 September 2010 Characterizing Western Juniper Expansion via a Fusion of Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper and Lidar Data
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Juniper encroachment into shrub steppe and grassland systems is one of the most prominent changes occurring in rangelands of western North America. Most studies on juniper change are conducted over small areas, although encroachment is occurring across large regions. Development of image-based methods to assess juniper encroachment over large areas would facilitate rapid monitoring and identification of priority areas for juniper management. In this study, we fused Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper and Light Detection and Ranging (lidar)–based juniper classifications to evaluate juniper expansion patterns in the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed of southwestern Idaho. Lidar applications for characterizing juniper encroachment attributes at finer scales were also explored. The fusion-based juniper classification model performed well (83% overall accuracy). A comparison of the resulting juniper presence/absence map to a 1965 vegetation cover map indicated 85% juniper expansion, which was consistent with tree-ring data. Comparisons of current and previous canopy-cover estimates also indicated an increase in juniper density within the historically mapped juniper distribution. Percent canopy cover of juniper varied significantly with land-cover types highlighting areas where intensive juniper management might be prioritized.

Received: 30 November 2009; Accepted: 1 April 2010; Published: 1 September 2010

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