Award recognizes range technology
Cheyenne – Terry Booth of the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) High Plains Grasslands Research Center, Sam Cox of Wyoming BLM and consultant Robert Berryman were recognized at the Federal Laboratory Consortium Mid-Continent Region (FLC) meeting this August for the development of new technology for monitoring rangelands.
Each year, FLC honors regional laboratories in five categories: the STEM award, Notable Technology Development Award, Outstanding Laboratory Award, Excellence in Technology Transfer Award and Outstanding Laboratory Representative Award.
Booth, Cox and Berryman received the Notable Technology Development Award for their Range Management Software Systems. The team developed five software programs for rangeland monitoring: SamplePoint, ImageMeasurement, Sample Freq, LaserLog and Merge.
Booth, who served as project lead, says, “In 2,000, I changed my research program to rangeland monitoring using what we called very large scale aerial photography.”
“Between 2000 and about 2004 we developed our aerial photographic system to achieve resolutions as great as one millimeter per pixel (mmpp), which was the highest resolution aerial photography in the world,” continues Booth.
For comparison, one mmpp resolution is 30,000 times greater resolution than that obtained by the well-known Landsat satellites and is a resolution capable of resolving blades of grass.
“From about 2004, we began working on methods for making measurements from our one mmpp images. This resulted in the development of the SamplePoint program by 2006,” adds Booth.
Cox, a natural resource specialist with the Wyoming BLM, explains, “The way that SamplePoint works is that it puts an array of dots on the image, and the user goes through and classifies what each of those points is sitting on, whether that is grass, shrub or bare ground.”
He adds, “The beauty of this software is we don’t have to go out into the field at all. We principally used it with aerial photos that we gathered with light sport airplanes.”
In a paper written by Booth and Cox, published in Rangelands, the pair says, “What SamplePoint analysis does is reduce analysis time, cost and environmental stress. Most importantly, users can work from a permanent photographic record.”
“These advantages are important because they reduce user-related variation in data,” continues the paper, which is titled Art to Science: Tools for Greater Objectivity in Resource Monitoring.
The software also works with photographs taken using handheld cameras while walking across transects of land.
“Once you have the imagery, photos can be uploaded into the software and the dots are placed on the image,” explains Cox. “The user simply has to go through and classify what each dot is sitting on. That data is directly put into a spreadsheet.”
SamplePoint is most useful for trend monitoring, but has been used in a variety of projects across the country and around the world.
“It works well in invasive species to detect the early stages of invasion,” explains Cox. “There was not a resource base available to do a widespread survey for weeds that aren’t abundant yet.”
A common method for detecting weed invasion is driving along county roads and simply looking for stands of weeds, but the exploration into areas without roads is much less practical.
“In Idaho, for example, we covered about 10,000 acres in a few days with the airplanes and are able to look at the photographs to determine the density and cover of spotted knapweed,” says Cox. “We were able to identify not only the areas where this weed was just starting to establish itself, but also areas outside what the public land managers already knew about. We were discovering new invasion points, based on using the software and aerial photography.”
SamplePoint technology is available on the web and can be downloaded for no charge. Currently, the software has been downloaded in 28 countries around the world and is being widely used by the UW Extension, Wyoming BLM, the University of Wyoming, North Dakota State University, New Mexico State University and Colorado State University.
“SamplePoint is not limited to agency use, by any means – it is for anybody to use,” says Cox. “The software is very simple to use and a tutorial is included. The idea is that ranchers, BLM or Forest Service can use it easily. All the software requires is that you provide an email address and location for us to keep track of where it is being used and how many people are using the program.”
SamplePoint is only one of five programs created by the team for rangeland monitoring. ImageMeasurement, a second program, provides the user with tools to determine the width or length of an item of interest or the area of objects using images.
“We used it for measuring the width of streams or the width of a weed infestation patch,” explains Cox. “It is similar to what can be done using GIS, but the difference is these images don’t have to be geo-referenced.”
“If we had to bring those images into a GIS program, we would have to spend a lot of time geo-referencing them before doing any sort of analysis,” continues Cox. “With ImageMeasurement, the user can bring it in immediately and start measuring. All users have to know is the image resolution, so it is a much simpler, quicker way to do that.”
ImageMeasurement software is also free and has been distributed to a number of university researchers, BLM and the Forest Service.
“There are plans to get ImageMeasurement on the web and available for download as well,” says Cox.
SampleFreq, the third program, is currently in development.
“It works a lot like SamplePoint,” Cox says. “The only difference is that SampleFreq measure plant frequency rather than plant cover.”
Merge and LaserLog are programs that were developed to aid in aerial photograph collection.
“LaserLog was a program we developed to record the height above ground of the airplane and the reflected light coming off the ground so that we could correlate that with image exposure,” says Cox. “Merge is a program for image location with the actual image files, based on time synchronization.”
While the programs are utility programs, they were essential to putting the images into a database so Cox and Booth were able to work with them.
The five programs work together for easier rangeland monitoring practices.
“The main things that are important is that anyone can download the software, and all of the software is freely available, although not easily available yet,” says Cox. “We hope to get the other software programs on the web for an easy download soon. At this point, SamplePoint is the only program available online.”
Booth adds that ImageMeasurement is ready for release, except for the development of a technical support plan. Additionally, SampleFreq is in a continued testing and improvement phase.
“SampleFreq might be released sometime next year, depending on the outcome of tests,” says Booth.
In receiving the Notable Technology Development Award, Booth facilitated contact with the awards committee. Berryman of Berryman Consulting in Boulder, Colo. wrote the computer programs associated with the rangeland monitoring technology.
“Bob Berryman’s contribution in authoring the computer code for all the software programs shouldn’t be understated,” says Cox. “He came up with some very creative methods of writing computer code to make it all happen, and has constantly updated all the programs in response to user feedback.”
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.