Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Natural Resource Management

First Advisor

Alexander Smart


The actual rate of loss of undisturbed prairie and woodland in eastern South Dakota is unknown, and the landscape composition of the region continues to change. Undisturbed land is land with no proven prior cropping or other disturbance history. Agriculture, development, recreation, and other land use practices create disturbances resulting in the further conversion of undisturbed prairies and woodlands. Previous work by South Dakota State University (SDSU) quantified the remaining undisturbed land in eastern South Dakota as of 2012 (Bauman et al 2016). Farm Service Agency (FSA) common land unit (CLU) and National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery were the primary data used by SDSU to quantify undisturbed land as of 2012. Analysis was then conducted utilizing South Dakota Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)derived Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) imagery to determine additional areas of disturbance not previously detected with other methods. The objective of our study was to quantify the rate of conversion of Potentially Undisturbed Land between 2012-2021, using the SDSU Potentially Undisturbed Land results of the 2012 analysis as a baseline. Undisturbed land is defined as not being cultivated or mechanically disrupted (Bauman et al. 2016). Our analysis revisited previously designated polygons where LiDAR indicated a change in land use. Images containing land use change detected by LiDAR were contrasted with National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery to determine if the conversion of the land was prior or post 2012. Any LiDAR-indicated land conversion prior to 2012 was not included in our analysis. Once we determined the date of conversion for the LiDAR data, we then analyzed the remaining undisturbed land tracts to determine if additional conversion occurred after 2012. The total land area in these counties is 9,164,826 hectares (22,646,780 acres), of which 1,946,936 hectares (4,810,985 acres) or 21% was considered potentially undisturbed as of 2012. Our analysis concluded that an additional 56,561 hectares (139,766 acres) of previously undisturbed land in eastern South Dakota was converted between 2012 and 2021. Undisturbed prairies are complex ecosystems with a myriad of above and below ground biotic and abiotic components and are believed to be irrecoverable once they have been converted to other land use. Conversion of undisturbed lands in eastern South Dakota is, therefore, irreversible. For perspective, our data suggests an average rate of conversion of over 1,214 hectares (3,000 acres) per county over this 9-year period, or roughly 134 hectares (333 acres) per county per year.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Land use -- South Dakota.
Landscape changes -- South Dakota.
Natural resources -- Management.


South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright