A group of eight students, faculty and staff from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES) recently received a grant from Google to map a 22,000-acre ranch in Wyoming.

The partnership between the Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative (UHPSI) and the Ucross Foundation, which owns the ranch, will allow the FES students to construct a detailed map of the vegetation and topography of the land. The project will help the ranch monitor spurge, an invasive species of vegetation, and fits into a larger initiative of cataloging land by analyzing satellite images.

“Upon receiving the GEE award, we were gifted the capacity to bring our complex modeling work back to those who need it most,” said Charlie Bettigole, co-director of UHPSI. “This project has been all about understanding how Yale, with its wealth of resources and expertise, can enhance the already tremendous work being done at Ucross.”

One of the project’s top priorities is to identify leafy spurge, an invasive species on the ranch, said Charlie Bettigole, co-director of UHPSI. Detection of spurge is the first step to monitoring and controlling the invasive species, said Henry Glick, co-director of UHPSI, adding that the task is challenging for land managers.

On the ranch in May, Lindsi Seegmiller FES ’14 will lead a team collecting unique spectral signatures of leafy spurge and other vegetative cover types. After gathering data, Seegmiller and Devin Routh FES ’14 will design algorithms that convert the images to data describing vegetations patterns.

The results of the project may eventually be incorporated into Google Earth, where the algorithm could evaluate vegetation anywhere on earth where sufficient imaging exists, Seegmiller said. She added that the project will allow the public to access information typically only accessible to academics.

“This way more people can do this analysis to inform their research or curiosity,” Seegmiller said.

Bettigole said the project exemplifies a broader mission of UHPSI to apply Yale’s resources to solve land issues in the Western United States.

UHPSI and Yale FES partnership is funded by Raymond Plank ’44 and directed by FES professor of forestry and environmental studies Chadwick Oliver.