Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Research17:133-44 (Fall 2007). Copyright ©2007 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


This paper examines the contemporary land-cover changes in two western Great Plains ecoregions between 1973 and 2000. Agriculture and other land uses can have a substantial effect on grassland cover that varies regionally depending on the primary driving forces of change. In order to better understand change, the rates, types, and causes of land conversion were examined for 1973, 1980, 1986, 1992, and 2000 using Landsat satellite data and a statistical sampling strategy. The overall estimated rate of land-cover change between 1973 and 2000 was 7.4% in the Northwestern Great Plains and 11.5% in the Western High Plains. Trends in both ecoregions have similarities, although the dynamics of change differ temporally depending on driving forces. Between 1973 and 1986, grassland cover declined when economic opportunity drove an expansion of agriculture. Between 1986 and 2000, grassland expanded as public policy and a combination of socioeconomic factors drove a conversion from agriculture to grassland.