Sonoran Institute scientists study growth and its impacts on the intermountain West’s environment, public lands, energy, climate change and water resources. To understand the relationships between humans and the landscapes they inhabit, we study the interaction of anthropogenic and natural processes and the resulting landscape patterns. For example, we investigate the spatial distribution of residential development and its potential effects on wildlife movement.
Landscape Ecology is the study of patterns and processes that occur within ecosystems and the interactions among ecosystems. In cooperation with the National Park Service’s Greater Yellowstone Network, Sonoran Institute researchers are developing a land use monitoring protocol to track the long-term changes in residential and agricultural land uses and roads and road density in counties adjacent to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
Spatial Analysis is way of analyzing geographic information based on the location and attributes of a landscape feature, for example the location and species composition of a forest. Often using a geographic information system (GIS) or spatial statistics, analysis of spatial data fosters a greater understanding of the relationships that exist across a landscape.
A spatially explicit residential growth model, developed by Institute researchers, employs GIS and statistical software to analyze data describing landscape conditions and uses this information to make predictions about the amount and distribution of residential development that may exist in the future. The Sonoran Institute Growth Model has been implemented in Doña Ana County, N. Mex., and six counties in Montana’s High Divide – Missoula, Ravalli, Beaverhead, Madison, Gallatin and Park counties. We have worked on developing the model with a group of great colleagues at Geodata Services Inc. and Lupine Logic Inc.
A conceptual diagram indicating the flow of the Sonoran Institute Growth Model (SIGM). Each shape is annotated with the software used to process or analyze data or file formats associated with data inputs\outputs. Bright blue indicates GIS processing and analysis; Green represents statistical analyses; Dark blue indicates input and output tables; Pink indicates a script that reallocates the number and distribution of predicted structures based on zoning capacities; Yellow indicates visualization tools. The large gray polygon indicates automated model components. Click here to view the Growth Model.
From the 2008 Sonoran Institute annual report:
Seeing Red Helps Citizens Plan for Growth
“The Sonoran Institute’s growth model turns statistics and numbers into a visual that helps citizens discuss how growth might change their community,” says Rick Hartz, planner for Beaverhead County in Montana. “When you see the outline of your county fill up with red dots over time, it is a real eye opener.” The Institute’s Jennifer Boyer, Tim Davis and John DiBari are working with a citizen’ group as they develop a growth plan for the county. The growth model’s red dots show the committee and others what their county’s future development patterns might look like using information from past patterns. Status-quo projections show what growth might look like if business-as-usual development were to continue. The community can then decide whether to steer growth in another direction. Many communities recognize current development patterns are fiscally unsustainable, or they want to protect agricultural lands, water quality and wildlife habitat. The growth model can reflect citizens’ ideas affecting land use, for example, to show how development patterns might change by protecting prime agricultural soils or elk winter range or by encouraging growth around existing communities. Plugging in such land use policies, the model produces alternative growth scenarios that help citizens, planners and decision-makers see how their ideas may affect future development patterns and shape the character of their community.