Using object-based image analysis to conduct high-resolution conifer extraction at regional spatial scales

Open-File Report 2017-1093
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management and Nevada Department of Wildlife
By: , and 



The distribution and abundance of pinyon (Pinus monophylla) and juniper (Juniperus osteosperma, J. occidentalis) trees (hereinafter, "pinyon-juniper") in sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems of the Great Basin in the Western United States has increased substantially since the late 1800s. Distributional expansion and infill of pinyon-juniper into sagebrush ecosystems threatens the ecological function and economic viability of these ecosystems within the Great Basin, and is now a major contemporary challenge facing land and wildlife managers. Particularly, pinyon-juniper encroachment into intact sagebrush ecosystems has been identified as a primary threat facing populations of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereinafter, "sage-grouse"), which is a sagebrush obligate species. Even seemingly innocuous scatterings of isolated pinyon-juniper in an otherwise intact sagebrush landscape can negatively affect survival and reproduction of sage-grouse. Therefore, accurate and high-resolution maps of pinyon-juniper distribution and abundance (indexed by canopy cover) across broad geographic extents would help guide land management decisions that better target areas for pinyon-juniper removal projects (for example, fuel reduction, habitat improvement for sage-grouse, and other sagebrush species) and facilitate science that further quantifies ecological effects of pinyon-juniper encroachment on sage-grouse populations and sagebrush ecosystem processes. Hence, we mapped pinyon-juniper (referred to as conifers for actual mapping) at a 1 × 1-meter (m) high resolution across the entire range of previously mapped sage-grouse habitat in Nevada and northeastern California.

We used digital orthophoto quad tiles from National Agriculture Imagery Program (2010, 2013) as base imagery, and then classified conifers using automated feature extraction methodology with the program Feature Analyst. This method relies on machine learning algorithms that extract features from imagery based on their spectral and spatial signatures. We classified conifers in 6,230 tiles and then tested for errors of omission and commission using confusion matrices. Accuracy ranged from 79.1 to 96.8, with an overall accuracy of 84.3 percent across all mapped areas. An estimated accuracy coefficient (kappa) indicated substantial to nearly perfect agreement, which varied across mapped areas. For this mapping process across the entire mapping extent, four sets of products are available at, including (1) a shapefile representing accuracy results linked to mapping subunits; (2) binary rasters representing conifer presence or absence at a 1 × 1 m resolution; (3) a 30 × 30 m resolution raster representing percentages of conifer canopy cover within each cell from 0 to 100; and (4) 1 × 1 m resolution canopy cover classification rasters derived from a 50-m-radius moving window analysis. The latter two products can be reclassified in a geographic information system (GIS) into user-specified bins to meet different objectives, which include approximations for phases of encroachment. These products complement, and in some cases improve upon, existing conifer maps in the Western United States, and will help facilitate sage-grouse habitat management and sagebrush ecosystem restoration.

Suggested Citation

Coates, P.S., Gustafson, K.B., Roth, C.L., Chenaille, M.P., Ricca, M.A., Mauch, Kimberly, Sanchez-Chopitea, Erika, Kroger, T.J., Perry, W.M., and Casazza, M.L., 2017, Using object-based image analysis to conduct high-resolution conifer extraction at regional spatial scales: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2017-1093, 40 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Study Methods
  • Conifer Mapping Results
  • Discussion
  • Caveats and Comparisons
  • References Cited
  • Appendix A. Error Matrices Results of Mapping Conifers at the 1-Meter Resolution across All Population Management Units Using Intensive Accelerated Feature Extraction Methods within Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat of Nevada and California
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Using object-based image analysis to conduct high-resolution conifer extraction at regional spatial scales
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2017-1093
DOI 10.3133/ofr20171093
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description Report: vi, 40 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State California, Nevada
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details