San Carlos Tribal managers wanted to evaluate the status and trends of reservation grasslands and spread of invasive species to allow for more informed rangeland management decisions. Attention to rangeland condition is now critical, since desertification processes can be accelerated during times of drought, and the region is currently experiencing a drought of significant duration and magnitude. The drought in the Southwestern US may not be an anomaly, but a "new reality" as climate change continues to dramatically affect the region's fragile grassland communities. Many desertification effects may prove irreversible, and timely information about trends in grassland condition indicators could be invaluable.
The San Carlos Apache Tribe has a great desire to expand their landscape monitoring efforts and is very interested in developing an in-house capability to utilize and manipulate remote sensing data to provide information for better management decisions. The 1.8 million acres of the reservation has prompted the Tribe to seek out the latest and most cost effective tools to assist them in the wise management and utilization of their natural resources. Training in remote sensing and image processing will allow the tribe to map and monitor their vast reservation lands within the constraint of limited financial and personnel resources. Therefore, the USGS has developed, in cooperation with Tribal personnel, a technology transfer component of this project to assist the Tribe in acquiring the necessary knowledge, skills, data and software by providing them tailored training in remote sensing and image processing. The ultimate goal is to provide the tribe with the ability to continually update the products developed within this project (such as rangeland condition and seasonal productivity maps) by themselves, and to produce additional management tools in-house in the future. A technology the Tribal leaders will trust, embrace and respond to; as they continue to "see our world through their eyes".
The USGS has been working closely with personnel of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and BIA to develop technology to utilize satellite imagery to map and monitor the condition of grasslands on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. This research has provided reservation land mangers with easily interpretable image products illustrating the effectiveness of their rangeland management practices over vast areas. Satellite-based rangeland condition and seasonal productivity maps at varying spatial resolutions and across several decades have been collaboratively developed, with very encouraging results. This interactive coordination with the Tribe is providing a wonderful opportunity to create useful tools tailored closely to tribal management needs, while allowing the self sufficiency of the Tribe to be enhanced.
The technology involved in mapping and monitoring rangeland condition from satellite data allows a significant step to be taken towards a future "natural census" of our natio's resources. Monitoring our vast natural resources on a timely basis is all the more critical as climate change hastens its rate and potential magnitude of change. The legacy of this joint effort may be to provide a useful tool for monitoring our nation’s resources, both Native American and beyond.