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An Object-Based Image Analysis of Pinyon and Juniper Woodlands Treated to Reduce Fuels

April Hulet, Bruce A. Roundy, Steven L. Petersen, Ryan R. Jensen, Stephen C. Bunting
Environmental management 2014 v.53 no.3 pp. 660-671
Artemisia, Juniperus, Pinus, cutting, ecosystems, fuel loading, fuels, image analysis, land cover, longevity, mastication, planning, prescribed burning, range management, rangelands, remote sensing, steppes, thematic maps, trees, woodlands, California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah
Mechanical and prescribed fire treatments are commonly used to reduce fuel loads and maintain or restore sagebrush steppe rangelands across the Great Basin where pinyon (Pinus) and juniper (Juniperus) trees are encroaching and infilling. Geospatial technologies, particularly remote sensing, could potentially be used in these ecosystems to (1) evaluate the longevity of fuel reduction treatments, (2) provide data for planning and designing future fuel-reduction treatments, and (3) assess the spatial distribution of horizontal fuel structure following fuel-reduction treatments. High-spatial resolution color-infrared imagery (0.06-m pixels) was acquired for pinyon and juniper woodland plots where fuels were reduced by either prescribed fire, tree cutting, or mastication at five sites in Oregon, California, Nevada, and Utah. Imagery was taken with a Vexcel UltraCam X digital camera in June 2009. Within each treatment plot, ground cover was measured as part of the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project. Trimble eCognition Developer was used to classify land cover classes using object-based image analysis (OBIA) techniques. Differences between cover estimates using OBIA and ground-measurements were not consistently higher or lower for any land cover class and when evaluated for individual sites, were within ±5 % of each other. The overall accuracy and the K ₕₐₜ statistic for classified thematic maps for each treatment were: prescribed burn 85 % and 0.81; cut and fell 82 % and 0.77, and mastication 84 % and 0.80. Although cover assessments from OBIA differed somewhat from ground measurements, they are sufficiently accurate to evaluate treatment success and for supporting a broad range of management concerns.