20 Whys to Map Your (Land) Cover

I’m not Paul Simon, and you’re lucky this is not a video blog where you would be forced to listen to me sing. But I thought it might be useful (for those not already part of the choir) to lay out some uses and example applications of land cover data.

There is certainly more to the subject than what I’ve laid out below (and a second part is coming soon). But I figured this might be a good start, either to get you thinking about how land cover might be of use to you or to hit on something that might not have occurred to you before.

So, hop on the bus, Gus. Land cover can help you make a new plan, Stan. Just listen to me.

1. Better understand the current status and overall trends of your geography: Land cover can provide a unique and useful perspective for local land use decision makers as they develop land use plans, regulations, and practices. These data help communities understand what actually composes the landscape, rather than what is planned or permitted. How can you decide what you want if you don’t know what you have? In addition, seeing how your geography has changed over the years is an excellent way to understand the effects of past land use decisions and consider future needs.

Click HERE to see how the Delaware River Basin Commission has used land cover data to evaluate trends related to water resources.

2. Examine development patterns: Developed land includes not only buildings and roads but urban open areas like parks and lawns within the development footprint. Localized problems related to flooding or water quality can be attributed to denser development, while lower density development spreads across a larger area, creating more infrastructure costs and impervious cover per capita. Unlike many other land cover changes, changes to development tend to be permanent. This image is of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Click HERE to see areas developed in Horry County, South Carolina, between 1996 and 2006.

3. Assess community exposure and sensitivity to tsunami hazards: Although tsunami-hazard zones have been identified along several U.S. coastlines, far less is known on potential impacts of these tsunamis to coastal communities (U.S. Government Accountability Office 2006; National Research Council 2010). Land cover can provide valuable input concerning the exposure of populations and infrastructure within these hazard zones and can also inform the modeling of evacuation times.

Click HERE to read a report produced by the U.S. Geological Survey related to exposure and sensitivity to tsunami hazards in Hawaii.

4. Assess timber harvest impacts on water quality: Clear-cut timber harvests have long been identified as a potentially significant contributor to excess sediment loads in streams, and eventually to estuaries, in the Yaquina Estuary (Lincoln County, Oregon). Land cover information was analyzed in order to better understand freshwater inputs from these features and their effects on the sedimentation processes in the watershed.

Click HERE to see how The Wetlands Conservancy has used land cover data to help analyze sources of sediment.

5. Track forest fire impacts and recovery through time: Forest fires can occur whether or not steps to mitigate risk have been taken. Determining the extent and severity of impact can be important to managers tasked with immediate response as well as longer-term planning for recovery. In 1996, a 10,400-acre fire (Charlton Fire) burned a significant portion of the Waldo Lake watershed in Lane County, Oregon.

Click HERE to see the area lost to this fire.

6. Assess forest fragmentation: Forest fragmentation is the breaking up of large, contiguous forest tracts into smaller, or less contiguous, areas. Intact forests are ecologically important because when forests are divided into smaller and smaller parcels, the biological diversity of many native animals and plants is diminished, water cycles are altered, and air and water quality can be affected.

Click HERE to access forest fragmentation data within the Digital Coast.

7. Set conservation priorities: Biologists believe that habitat loss, forest insect outbreaks, wildfire, and invasive species are all to blame for declining populations of the New England cottontail. The rabbit’s range has shrunk by more than 75 percent, with its numbers reduced to only five small populations in the historic range and none remaining in Vermont.

Click HERE to see how researchers used land cover to determine suitable habitat areas for this species.

8. Assess hurricane impacts and recovery: To assess quickly and accurately the potential impacts and longer-term recovery from a hurricane (or other natural disaster), managers need to have recent land cover information and understand the pre-existing conditions. Such information can be useful for prioritizing immediate responses as well as tracking the long term environmental recovery.

Click HERE to see how areas of Breton Sound, Louisiana, were impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

9. Assess impacts to water levels from drought and climate:The Great Lakes is one of the few coastal U.S. regions experiencing net increases in wetlands. In the Lake Michigan Basin between 1985 and 2010, two-thirds of these gains can be attributed to drought and lowering water levels in lakes and ponds, which exposed growing areas to wetland species.

Click HERE to see new wetland areas formed along the shore of Saginaw Bay in Tuscola County, Michigan, between 1996 and 2006.

10. Quantify impacts from tornados: On June 7, 2007, several tornados touched down across central and northwest Wisconsin. The long yellow strip seen here highlights the scar from one that is more than 50 miles long. As a result of these tornados, more than 14,000 acres of trees were snapped or flattened and are now mapped as grasslands.

Click HERE to read more about changes seen in the Lake Michigan Basin between 1985 and 2010.

I hope these examples highlight some uses that might be of interest to you or others in your community. Dig around the Digital Coast Stories from the Field to dive deeper into these applications as well as all kinds of data uses. And get yourself some land cover data, because there must be more than 20 ways to use that cover.

Otherwise, stay tuned for the next installment of “Whys to Map Your Cover”—same bat time, same bat channel.

Comments

Lori Barrow's picture

Submitted by Lori Barrow (not verified) on Thu, 2013-08-29 12:08

Hi Nate,
My name is Lori Barrow, I serve as Forest Service liaison and general communications gal for the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative. I really enjoyed this, and the follow up, blog posts on why we map land cover data and how we use the information. I thought these posts would be extremely well received by our web community, and was wondering if I (or you) would we willing to share this on our site >>http://www.southatlanticlcc.org/ ? Please feel free to contact me for more information (and I apologize for contacting you through the comment thread, try as I might, I could not find contact information for you!), lori@southatlanticlcc.org.
Best, Lori


nate.herold's picture

Submitted by nate.herold on Tue, 2013-09-03 11:44

Glad you enjoyed the posts. Feel free to spread the "good word" about land cover data and it's uses on your site. I hope your readers will find it useful.


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