Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative 2016 Annual Report

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Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative Annual Report—2016


Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative — 2015 Annual Report

This work would not be possible without support from: Mr. Raymond Plank | Plank Stewardship Initiative | Ucross Foundation | Apache Foundation | Apache Corporation | Bauer Land and Livestock | Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies | Google | NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | University of Wyoming | Sheridan College | The Nature Conservancy | Sheridan Community Land Trust | Boot Ranch

Questions? ucrosshighplainsstewardship@gmail.com | highplainsstewardship.org | facebook.com/ucrosshighplainsstewardshipinitiative

Raymond Plank – Founder & Chairman Emeritus Apache Corporation | Entrepreneur & Visionary UHPSI is the brainchild of Raymond Plank, Apache Corporation Founder and Chairman Emeritus. Through his life in the West, Raymond established a strong personal connection to the landscape around him and an appreciation for land and water stewardship. The Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative is a manifestation of Raymond’s interest in and affinity for the High Plains region, made possible only through his high-level vision and philanthropy. Raymond tends to think large, and hopes to extend UHPSI’s reach to the rest of Wyoming and beyond, securing a more sustainable future for the High Plains region. Most recently, Raymond has founded a new organization—the Plank Stewardship Initiative, which will work closely with UHPSI to foster land and water stewardship on the high plains of Wyoming. When he isn’t juggling business or developing educational opportunities you might find Raymond enjoying the sounds of the river from his home on Piney Creek.

Cover Photo: 2016 Western Research Fellows and UHPSI Staff at the TNC Tensleep Preserve, Ten Sleep, WY


About the Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, ...but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. ~Aldo Leopold


and timely. Using satellite imagery, we develop mapping tools that detect he Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative (UHPSI) is a

changes in vegetation characteristics over time, monitor the spread of inva-

science-based research program focused on land stewardship in the

sive species, and prioritize habitats of key concern for wildlife species.

American West. UHPSI seeks to provide quantitative, science-based

These mapping tools are designed to be easy to use and up-to-date in order

solutions to issues of rangeland management, and to share our findings,

to meet the changing needs of land managers.

locally, regionally, and nationally. Our team includes professionals and


graduate students with extensive experience in landscape ecology, wildlife biology, botany, hydrology, statistics, remote sensing and geospatial analysis. Students and staff bring experience garnered by research operations around the world, from Oregon to Kansas to New England to Chile to Turkey to Nepal.


pplied Research — Our team of students, researchers, staff, and

faculty study questions spanning environmental and social issues pertinent to land management in the Rockies. Recent research ranges from valuing ecosystem services provided by beavers and beaver mimicry devices, to mapping the social values relating to the Red Desert to Hoback, WY mule deer migration, to quantifying the potential flush of nitrogen in our fragile

xperiential Learning — We believe boots-on-the-ground experi-

alpine systems during snow melt, and developing a feasibility analysis of

ences provide some of the best opportunities for students to learn about

the grassfed beef market.

and apply lessons in Western land management. Currently, we offer sum-


mer and academic-year internships with Western partners, a two-week applied course in rangeland assessment, and support for students pursuing their own creations across the West.


ollaboration – From the halls of Yale University to the mountains

and plains of the Rockies, we strive to broaden and strengthen Western land management through collaborative research, pairing the knowledge of local practitioners with cutting-edge applied science. Our network of collab-

apping — Western landscapes are vast, which makes land man-

orators spans ranchers, researchers, non-profit organizations, academics,

agement expensive and time consuming. New mapping technologies allow

and public agencies. We are always eager to explore opportunities and look

us to create tools and maps that can make land management more efficient

forward to connecting with new partners.


About the Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative


UHPSI Students, Faculty, and Staff


Master’s Highlights


Western Research Fellowship


Geospatial Analysis at UHPSI


Cheatgrass Mapping


Russian Olive Mapping


Sagebrush Mapping


Art and Ecology


Collaboration and Publication



Faculty & Staff

Charlie Bettigole | MS Program Director

Nick Olson | MF Program Manager

Sabrina Szeto MF Spatial Analyst


Chadwick Oliver | PhD Fearless Leader

Kris Covey | MF, PhD Postdoctoral Fellow

Devin Routh | MF Spatial Analyst

UHPSI students & staff with Nature Conservancy staff at Ten Sleep Preserve

Charlie Faires Research Assistant

Austin Rempel ‘18 Beaver Research

Josh Morse ‘17 Western Research Fellow Wildlife Migrations

Student Researchers

Eve Boyce ‘18 Working Lands/Web

Eamon Heberlein ‘19 Soil Carbon Summit

Becca Shively ‘17 Lecture Series

Jay Chancellor ‘17 Western Research Fellow Ranch Diversification

Sam Jordan ‘18 Lecture Series

Kyle Syriano | MS Volunteer Re-

Elizabeth Domenech ‘17 Julia Calderon ‘18 Lecture Series & Billings Urban Compost Wildlife Fencing

Dan Kane PhD ‘20 Western Research Fellow Soil Carbon Research

SaraRose Tanenbaum ‘16 Western Research Fellow Sublette County Stories

Jeremy Menkhaus ‘18 Financial Modeling Working Lands Project

Eli Terris ‘18 Experimental Grassland

Taylor Ganz ‘17 Western Research Fellow Alpine Lake Chemistry

Luke Menard ‘17 Spatial Analysis

Leanne Weiss ‘16 Russian Olive Mapping

Henry Glick ‘PhD 19 Spatial Analysis & Geostatistics

Lucyann Murray ‘17 Western Research Fellow Grassfed Beef Analysis

Hannah Walchak ‘17 Cooperative Research


Master’s Highlight — Eve Boyce Eve is a first-year MEM student, hailing most recently from beautiful Washington state, where she worked as the Land Stewardship Manager for an agricultural land trust with a mission to protect prime farmland from development.


ve has been working with the National Young

Farmers Coalition on the development of a webbased financial planning tool aimed at assisting farmers in making decisions about land access and, in particular, whether to rent or purchase farmland. Calling on her previous experience working in farmland conservation, Eve has been able to bring an insider understanding of the many intricacies of purchasing farmland, particularly when working with a conservation partner, to the project. In partnership with a celebrated information design firm, A young farmer (and former colleague of Eve Boyce’s in Washington

Version 1 of the tool has been completed and Eve will spend this semester working with NYFC to col-

Source: National Young Farmers Coalition

lect partner feedback and modify the tool, expected to go live next Fall.


Master’s Highlight — Hannah Walchak Hannah is a second-year student at the Forestry School studying the intersection of land conservation and agricultural management. She spent the past summer working at the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, where she fell in love with the magic of Maui.


his Fall, Hannah spent time digging in to how scientific research can

support private land conservation, and vice versa. Working with some wonderful leaders from TNC's Tensleep Preserve and Wyoming Community College District's Spear-O Mountain Ranch, Hannah researched a wide variety of models of long-term partnerships between universities, communities, and protected lands. In addition to compiling case studies describing these models, she also conducted interviews with researchers from many scientific fields in order to ascertain the barriers and incentives they had encountered to forming partnerships with research sites. The goal of this work was to identify some strategies by which several conservation properties in the Bighorn Mountains might broaden their partnerships and increase the research that occurs on their lands. In the upcoming Spring semester, she will be working with the same partners to study the feasibility of implementing some of the practices and partnerships uncovered in research.

TNC’s Tensleep Preserve (photo: Dan Kane)


Master’s Highlights—Eli Terris Eli is currently a joint-MEM and African studies master's student expecting to graduate in 2019. Prior to coming to FES, Eli spent 4 years in West Africa doing agroforestry and agribusiness work. He is interested in international agricultural research and anthropology as a tool for supporting sustainable natural resource management.


uring the fall of 2016, alongside other

Ucross staff, Eli worked towards getting the Yale Experimental Grassland physically and materially ready for the upcoming competition. Over the summer of 2017, UHPSI will be UHPSI Program Manager Nick Olson, discusses the grassland with land manager Justin Freiberg

hosting GrassX — a land management competition at Yale, encouraging students to develop

skills relevant to managing and studying grasslands, with a focus on pollinator habitat. Eli worked to demarcate and delineate the plots/space that will be used during the competition. This involved some physical work such as building fencing and delineating over 30 research plots. Simultaneously he monitored vegetation, soil, and other physical characteristics in each research plot. Eli further unpacked the specifics of the competition; specifically designed and geared towards implementing a management system that supports local pollinators. He worked towards preparing documents that set the ground rules for and importance of the competition. Following, at the end of 2016, Eli started developing steps and an action plan for how 2017 and the next phases of the competition will unfold.


Master’s Highlight— Jeremy Menkhaus Jeremy Menkhaus is a second-year MBA / MEM Candidate at FES and the School of Management. Prior to Yale, Jeremy worked as an Analyst in M&A advisory at Wells Fargo Securities and an Associate and Senior Associate in middle-market growth private equity at Brockway Moran & Partners. Jeremy is interested in how private sector investment can promote conservation and how ecosystem services markets can be utilized to deliver more widespread conservation finance products.


hroughout the Fall, Jeremy Menkhaus (and research assistant Charlie

Faires) worked with Ben Hayes of The Pinchot Institute on the Working Lands Project ("WLP"). The WLP aims to ensure conservation of privately-owned working lands through intergenerational ownership transfers. Jeremy's involvement in this project entailed constructing a financial model for these private working lands, in order to facilitate concurrent landowner interviews as well as to provide an assessment of financial viability of the WLP model. While the WLP will attempt to address these issues for agricultural, timberland and ranchland property holders, Jeremy primarily spent his time this Fall building an enterprise-level ranchland operating model. Through conversations with various subject matter experts over the course of the semester, Jeremy constructed a 90 -year cash flow model that builds off of property- and herd-specific data and can incorporate a variety of unique factors dependent on the operation. Eventually, this financial model will be extended to encompass timberland and finally agricultural data as well. Charlie Faires conducts an interview for the WLP


Master’s Highlight— Luke Menard


s a Geospatial Research

Assistant, Luke worked in close collaboration with Sabrina Szeto, the Ucross Geospatial Analyst, on a variety of mapping and research projects. He first reviewed the scientific literature to determine the most pressing anthropogenic and climate-based threats to the greater sagegrouse and sagebrush habitat in the intermountain west. Luke compiled his findings into a working draft of an ArcGIS Story Luke Menard worked with UHPSI geospatial analyst Sabrina Szeto to design an interactive mapping platform on sagebrush ecology

Map, which will live on the Ucross website upon completion.

This Story Map provides detailed information on threats to the greater sage-grouse in an easily navigated, visually compelling format. Additionally, Luke worked with Sabrina on an ongoing effort to generate a real-time tool that monitors fluxes in sagebrush habitat using satellite imagery on Google Earth Engine. Luke is a second-year MEM student originally from western Massachusetts. He is interested in learning how spatial analysis and financial tools can be incorporated into successful land management for conservation gains in the west. Luke recently worked in Portland, Oregon, where he used geospatial software to estimate the landscape-level effects of industrial forest management regime shifts on the abundance and health of Pacific NW forest resources.


Master’s Highlight— Sam Jordan Sam is a first year MESc student at F&ES with research focused on the sagebrush steppe in Wyoming. His work will hopefully help land owners and managers make more informed decisions and be better stewards to the systems they live and work in. He comes from a forestry background, and has work experience in agriculture, non-profits, and land managing agencies.


his fall, Sam joined the Ucross High Plains Stewardship

Initiative to help organize the lecture series the Ucross puts on here on Yale's campus. This was his first semester on campus, and that experience combined with the buzz of an election cycle made it very dynamic and educational to be involved beyond the classroom. A large part of Sam’s time working was spent in discussions with leaders at the School of Forestry and Environ-

Dan Thompson (WY Game & Fish), Matt Barnes (rancher and range rider), Freddie Botur (rancher), Pennie Moldanado (NGO director), and Professor Oswald Schmitz discuss carnivore predation of live-

mental Studies and the larger campus community on Native American land management controversies. As a Western-focused research group, we were very interested in reconciling some of our own shortcoming in knowledge about how to approach and discuss modern land management issues on Native lands. Challenges in the field are often reflected at home, and some of Sam’s focus was on how the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies might improve our own habits and methods to reflect a more grounded and inclusive approach to conflict resolution and Native rights. While it is challenging to bring about institutional change, Sam is optimistic that the events in 2016 and the efforts by Ucross can both provide opportunities for students to acquire a broader perspective and a respect for the intricacies of these land management controversies. Looking forward, Sam is working with student groups and other organizations to create opportunities for discussion and learning in 2017.


Master’s Highlight— Elizabeth Domenech Elizabeth is a secondyear MEM student from Austin, Texas, interested in largescale conservation solutions with a focus on the Western U.S. Prior to coming to F&ES, she served as the Director of the Shield-Ayres Foundation, a family foundation supporting natural resource conservation, health and human services, and education and the arts in Central Texas.


lizabeth is working with The Na-

ture Conservancy’s Tensleep Preserve in Wyoming to design a monitoring program for five miles of wildlife-friendly fencing that will be installed on the preserve. Monitoring will include installation of trail cameras to capture crossing data so that TNC can begin to understand trends in how elk, pronghorn, and Mule deer crossing a fence near Pinedale, WY, part of the Red Desert—Hoback Herd (photo: Josh Morse)

mule deer are using and adapting to the new fences. The project will ultimately serve as an educational tool for the preserve.


Master’s Highlight— Austin Rempel Austin is an MEM student interested in watershed restoration, outdoor recreation economics and collaborative land conservation in the American West. He grew up in New Mexico and France, and comes to FES after working as a natural resource economist in Portland, Oregon.


eaver dams and human-built

structures that mimic beaver dams (‘beaver dam analogs’) provide a suite of ecosystem services on western rangelands, including flood prevention, sediment retention, riparian restoration and carbon sequestration. Using the Nature Conservancy’s Red Canyon Ranch as a case study, Austin is producing a research brief to quantify and communicate the value of these services to western land managers, with a focus on priTNC staff John Cofman and Holly Copeland high above a beaver dam complex at Red Canyon Ranch near Lander, WY

vate forage benefits and late season water storage.


Ucross Western Resea


uring the inaugural year of the Western Research Fellowship (WRF), UHPSI awarded summer fellowships to a

selection of applicants interested in issues pertinent to land management in the High Plains. Ideal projects targeted high-impact biophysical or social questions with management implications for private land management in the West. In addition to a financial award, fellows were given access to a broad network of partner organizations and properties across the Mountain West, as well as technical, logistical, and publication support.


e awarded the WRF to eight students -- six master’s, one doctoral, and one undergraduate. Their research

spanned a broad array of management issues from water to soil to policy to finance. The WRF projects were, in fact, a wonderful reflection of the myriad issues facing land managers in the West today. With UHPSI’s emphasis on publication and dissemination of research, we’re confident that the impact of the 2016 WRF projects will extend across and beyond the high plains. Currently, three projects are nearing peer-reviewed publication, two are in preparation for popular press, and two are published as technical white-papers.

WRF’s Dan Kane, Josh Morse, Jay Chancellor, Sara Rose Tanenbaum, and Taylor Ganz in the Bighorn Mountains, July 2016


UHPSI Director Charlie Bettigole working with WRF’s Dan Kane and Lucyann Murray in the Bighorn Mountains, July 2106

arch Fellowship 2016

Soil Sampling with Dan Kane in Wyoming and Montana—Building Viability for Rangeland Carbon Markets

Each pin on this map represents a field visit by one of our Western Research Fellows. From what would have been a handful of pins near Sheridan two years ago, UHPSI has expanded it’s reach across Wyoming, Montana, and several other western states. Students have worked with land mangers, NGO’s, agencies, and other universities across the Northern Rockies. Sour ce:

Rounding up cattle in Pinedale with Sara Rose Tannenbaum


Mapping and Geospatial Analysis at UHPSI


apping plays a critical role in


oogle Earth Engine (GEE) is an open-source remote sensing

our work both in New Haven and

platform for which UHPSI has been a trusted tester for the past three

Wyoming. Mapping, using a variety

years. While GEE is still in early developmental stages, it is a powerful

of GIS and remote sensing technolo-

tool, allowing researchers access to over 35 years of satellite imagery

gies, has been the backbone of our

from all over the world, as well as a powerful cloud-computing platform

scientific programs for the last four

for analyzing and processing data. We’ve been fortunate to be among a

years. Our team of staff, in tandem

relatively small group of scientists and practitioners adopting this tech-

with F&ES faculty, work to prepare students to head towards western

nology. We believe it holds enormous potential for influencing on-the-

careers in land management with a robust tool spatial toolkit. This in-

ground land management

cludes: Geo-spatial analysis—using staff capacity to build mapping tools for


land managers, while also mentoring students, and involving their devel-

from Google to develop algorithms for their ever-growing user group.

oping knowledge to create more robust products.

We’ve directly applied many of these tools with on-the-ground land

Boots on the ground mapping—whether it’s sitting down around the kitchen table with a rancher, sharing a screen remotely with collaborators, flying unmanned aerial vehicles, or field testing phone/tablet/GPS applications, we’ve got it covered! Cartography- we take pride in our ability to tell stories with our maps. We’ve received numerous awards and recognition for our map designs, and we take pride in our ability to work with collaborators to deliver products that are clear, concise, and beautiful!


ver the last three years, we have received two research awards

managers to reinforce and support management decisions.

Google Earth Engine—Cheatgrass


n partnership with the University of Wyoming Extension (Brian

Mealor – Director, Sheridan Extension Center), we are working on a collaborative project, which will investigate the abilities of time-series analysis in GEE to map the current and historical distributions of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) across the western United States. Cheatgrass is an invasive annual grass whose introduction into the American West has had a catastrophic impact on rangeland ecosystems and Western livelihoods. Cheatgrass’ unique phenology, drought tolerance, and adaptation to fire enables the species to outcompete native annual and perennial vegetation and to alter traditional/ historic fire regimes.


e have collected data, and our master’s students and staff

have begun beta testing our algorithms in Google Earth Engine, largely working off of UW’s extensive database of cheatgrass density estimates from across the state of Wyoming (n>20,000 points). We ultimately hope to translate the algorithms into a user-friendly tool to aid in management and decision making, and to build upon the successes Dr. Mealor’s team has had in working with state and local governments.


Russian Olive Mapping


HPSI signed on to assist with a USDA-NRCS RCPP grant for the

Tongue River Initiative led by TNC Wyoming, and in conjunction with Sheridan Community Land Trust (SCLT), Sheridan County Conservation Commission, NRCS, Wyoming Game and Fish, Trout Unlimited, Sheridan County, and Wyoming DEQ. UHPSI’s contribution has been the mapping of Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) across the Tongue River and its tributaries. Russian Olive is a woody invasive, historically planted as windrow and garden trees, which rapidly displaces native vegetation, particularly in riparian areas.


ver 2016, we harnessed the latest in object-based remote sensing al-

gorithms to map both the current extent of Russian olive and its historical distribution, to better understand patterns of spread. In addition to the work with the Tongue River Initiative on the USDA grant, we have provided mapping support to Sheridan County Weed and Pest to aid them in their invasive species management prioritization process.


n late February 2016, we worked with the SCLT to put in a grant to the

Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust, to translate the results of this mapping work into on-the-ground eradication and reclamation, imRussian olive viewed from space with 2015 National Agricultural Imagery Program data


proving riparian habitats and water quality for landowners and river-users.

Russian Olive Mapping

Density of Russian Olive in the upper Tongue River watershed. Areas in blue have the highest density of Russian olive, areas with no color are further than 500 meters from a single Russian olive tree

Distance to the nearest Russian olive tree in the upper Tongue River watershed. Areas in blue have Russian olive trees with 100 meters, those in brown within 500 meters.

In June, we received word that the project has been funded, providing 95% of the cost of removal and reclamation for landowners interested in improving riparian environments on their properties. Based on our findings, SCLT has been reaching out to landowners in priority areas throughout the Fall of 2016. We’re excited to be moving forward with our partners on this project!


Google Earth Engine—Sagebrush Mapping


cross and The Nature Conservancy are working to-

gether to build a real-time monitoring platform for sagebrush using satellite imagery on Google Earth Engine. The SageView platform will be scalable across space and time and is designed for use by land managers.


abrina Szeto joined Ucross in September 2016 and has

been focusing primarily on classifying sagebrush distribution using Google Earth Engine. Diving into the literature, she completed background research in December and has since coded a preliminary script for the monitoring platform. The A well camouflaged sage grouse at the Red Canyon Ranch (photo: Charlie Bettigole)

sagebrush classification model uses a Random Forest algorithm to distinguish between sagebrush and other land co-

vers. Training data from the Bureau of Land Management and vegetation sampling undertaken by The Nature Conservancy have been used as inputs in addition to Landsat satellite imagery hosted in the Google cloud. The Landsat archive stretches back to 1984 and new images are still being collected, providing the opportunity to perform historical change detection of sagebrush distribution.


e are excited to share the first results from our work (see figures to the right). The image on the left is a Landsat 5 composite image from

2008 of Crowheart in the Wind River Reservation of Wyoming. On the right, is the sagebrush classification output map showing sagebrush in pink and non-sagebrush land cover in blue. As you can see, forest cover, water, roads and agricultural fields are distinguished from sagebrush by the algorithm. Sabrina is continuing to refine the algorithm and produce maps from different times, utilizing data from large-scale vegetation surveys carried out by the Bureau of Land Management.


Google Earth Engine—Sagebrush Mapping

Results of a land cover classification of Sagebrush using Google Earth Engine. Areas in Pink are classified as sage, areas in blue are not. It’s easy to see how well the algorithm is doing predicting sage areas!


Art and Ecology


chance meeting three

years ago over dinner at the Ucross Foundation schoolhouse led to a unique collaboration between UHPSI and a group of faculty/alumni from the Land Arts of the American

Bison on the move in Santa Fe, NM

West Program at the University Charlie talks with guests at the Yale opening of Ucross: A Portrait in Place

of New Mexico. Over the course of two summers, the collaborative team worked together in the field to design interactive pieces that bridged the worlds of art and science.


ollowing a successful show at the Ucross Foundation Art Gallery in the sum-

mer and fall of 2015, “Ucross: A Portrait in Place” came to Yale F&ES in a highly reviewed spring semester gallery showing in Kroon Hall. Upon completion of our Yale show, our group was honored by an invite to showcase our work at the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe. It was a humbling experience having the opportunity to share our work and love of Ucross with such a distinguished group of artists and scholars. The artists/scientists gathered in F&ES’ main lecture hall to discuss their work


UHPSI Partner Projects and Publications—2016


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