Evaluation of the automated reference toolset for oil and gas reclamation on Colorado rangelands

TitleEvaluation of the automated reference toolset for oil and gas reclamation on Colorado rangelands
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsDi Stefano SF, Brungard C, Karl JW, Stauffer N, McCord S
Conference NameSociety for Range Management Meeting Proceedings
Date Published01/2018
Conference LocationSparks, Nevada
ARIS Log Number350482

Rangelands are characterized by low precipitation and low biomass, making them susceptible to disturbance and difficult to reclaim. Considering the widespread and significant impact of oil and gas development on rangelands, effective reclamation is vital. Thus, it is important that land managers understand the ecological context of a reclamation site so that management outcomes can be correctly interpreted. This is often accomplished through comparison of reclamation areas to reference sites which are selected by their similarity to the reclamation area’s pre-disturbance condition, so that the relative condition of a reclamation site can be determined. Reference site selection is normally expert driven on a site-by-site basis, and thus can be inconsistently applied and ineffective in helping to meet reclamation goals over large landscapes. The Automated Reference Tool (ART) was developed to improve the efficiency and efficacy of reference site selection by selecting reference sites of similar land potential to the reclamation area based on soil texture, topography, and geology. However, ART has not been previously evaluated in a management context. Our objectives were to evaluate ART within this context and determine if existing reference sites are appropriate reference sites for well-pads. We applied the ART to oil & gas reclamation sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) White River Field Office, Colorado, to their reference sites and to nearby sites from the BLM’s Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) program. Both existing reference sites and nearby AIM sites varied in their similarity to reclamation sites according to ART and in terms of vegetation composition from field sampling. Based on these results, ART can complement expert-driven reference site selection, making reference site selection quicker, more quantitative, and defensible, helping land managers better meet their reclamation needs.