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A Review and Comparison of LANDFIRE BpS and NRCS Ecological Site Descriptions


The purpose of this project is to increase understanding of major ecological classifications used for assessment and management, and provide basic information to spur productive dialogue. Several classifications were reviewed and two, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) ecological site descriptions (ESDs) and LANDFIRE1 biophysical settings (BpS), were scrutinized in detail and their potential for shared application was assessed.

Both classifications describe reference conditions using mapable features, and so provide a basis to conceptually and spatially evaluate departure. Both depict disturbance as a main factor in ecological change. However, differences in scope, scale and modeling are considerations for full integration. Biophysical settings depict reference conditions and, as a broader classification, are coarser spatially. ESDs depict both reference and non-reference conditions and are finer resolution. Biophysical settings specify vegetation succession classes and predict the proportions of those classes under reference conditions, based on disturbance probability. ESDs describe “states”, comprised of plant communities, but do not enumerate “standard” succession classes (though see Key Finding 2) or make quantitative predictions (quantitative data is encouraged to guide ESD development, interpretation and application).

Biophysical settings stress natural disturbances under reference conditions while ESDs additionally distinguish natural and anthropogenic drivers that shift states between reference and non-reference conditions. ESDs explicitly recommend management options, which may be derived from biophysical settings but are not inherent.

Authors: Steven Yanoff, M. Reese Lolley, Joanna Bate, Patrick McCarthy, Anne Bradley