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Open Data Powers Conservation Mapping Tool for USDA, Partners

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Feb. 23, 2016 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the University of Montana and other partners have used Google Earth Engine to build a new interactive online map tool that, for the first time, combines layers of data to better target invasive species that are damaging habitat and rangeland.

The tool was built as part of USDA's ongoing Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) and present geospatial data covering a 100 milian acre landscape in eight western States.

“Bringing this data together in an easy-to-use online resource helps federal, state and private partners better target our work to restore and protect this vast landscape – supporting wildlife, rural economies, and the Western way of life," said NRCS Chief Jason Weller. “This is another great example of how using scientific data and technology makes partnerships like the Sage Grouse Initiative more effective.”

Terrell Erickson, director of NRCS’ Ecological Sciences Division, unveiled the new mapping tool today at the Sagebrush Conference in Salt Lake City. Now available at, this first version of the tool currently allows farmers, ranchers, conservationists and other partners to analyze data on the encroachment of conifers and cheatgrass on key rangeland.  

“This is just the first step,” said Erickson. “SGI partners are in the process of adding more data layers of value to the application based on input from our partners.”

Brady Allred, a rangeland specialist with University of Montana, developed the tool for SGI using Google Earth Engine, a platform for scientific analysis and visualization of geospatial datasets, both for public benefit and for business and government users. SGI will continue to build on the tool over time. The eight states with territory covered by the first two data sets include California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Public and private land managers can now use the free SGI map tool in planning where and how best to target available resources to achieve the biggest gains in the battle against invasive species. “By focusing on such a large area we are able to provide the big picture – a better view of what’s occurring across boundaries, so each effort supports the greater goal and helps reduce future threats,” Allred said.

The Tree Canopy Cover layer, developed by professor Michael Falkowski of Colorado State University, shows where conifers are degrading critical sagebrush-steppe across the range. NRCS and partners use this data to target the removal of invading conifers when the trees are young and more easily eradicated. Another map layer provides an index of ecosystem resilience and resistance to cheatgrass based on underlying soil temperature and moisture.

Each data layer creates a visual representation of available research covering one of the threats targeted by Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 investment strategy, a four-year $211 million effort to help restore and protect sagebrush habitats in 11 western states. The strategy guides conservation efforts through 2018.

Since 2010, NRCS has partnered with ranchers to restore and protect more than five million acres of sage grouse habitat through SGI. This work was part of a large landscape-level effort that led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude last year that the sage grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Learn more about NRCS’ conservation efforts for sage grouse habitat. For more on technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit

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