Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program

Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program: A Spatial Database for the Ecoregion

The Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program (MDEP) represents the first joint DoD/DOI attempt to create a uniform geospatial data coverage across a scientifically defined ecoregion. The goal of the MDEP is to develop and implement and Internet-accessable database of GIS-based land management information to facilitate data collection, storage, transfer, sharing, and analysis by all interested parties. It is a multiagency effort, transcending administrative and geopolitical boundaries, designed to enable informed decision making for sustainable land management across a 44,000-square-mile ecoregion.


Land managers today are faced with multiple challenges. They must promote and restore natural ecological processes. They must, as a result of expanding economic pressures, become advocates for the sustainable use of natural systems while ensuring the integrity of these systems. The public and the courts are increasingly demanding objective and effective management strategies that balance multiple demands on fragile, exhaustible resources. Competition for Mojave Desert resources has increased dramatically over the last several years as diverse groups seek to achieve often conflicting goals. These goals include such things as establishing and expanding national parks, creating wilderness areas, protecting threatened and endangered plants and animals, developing recreational areas, conducting military training and testing to meet the nation's national defense needs, and expanding economic development. Given projections for tripling of the population in the region over the next twenty years, competition among these interests will increase, resulting in fragmented conservation and development efforts. As a result, land managers must develop programs that evaluate, monitor, and predict system change including that caused by human impact. The task before land managers and scientists becomes one of more fully understanding the concepts of natural system processes, integrity, and sustainability, so that their goals and objectives promote true system management and strengthen the ties between the research, habitat management, and conservation efforts of all land management agencies.

To achieve this task, the theory and practice of ecosystem management becomes crucial to sustaining the health and productivity of the Mojave Desert ecoregion. Ecosystem level management is distinguished by its concern for characteristics of the whole system. Traditional resource management efforts do not necessarily provide for sustainability or productivity of the ecosystem. The focus of these efforts has been at the species level. This species-by-species approach is inefficient, expensive, and biased toward species with broad public appeal. These efforts also contribute to economic conflict because they fail to provide a reasonable planning framework for economic interests. Biological loss occurs at all levels; therefore, efforts to maintain biological integrity must be applied to all levels, not just the species level. Effective ecosystem management requires that species of special concern be examined in the context of the overall ecosystem and its surroundings. The importance of a particular species to a given planning area is best determined in light of the knowledge of the regional distribution of the species. In the greater scheme, it is important to note that an ecosystem approach to management is a complement to, not a substitute for, legally mandated protection of individual species. Maintenance of ecosystem integrity ensures against endangering additional species. If land managers are serious about managing for sustainability, they must raise their focus in management and planning to the ecosystem level.

To date, enormous amounts of ecosystem data have been gathered by a wide variety of federal, state, local, and private agencies. These data span a wide variety of issues and topics and have been collected at many different scales. However, complaints of inaccessibility and incompatibility are common and prevent widespread use of this data. Additionally, standards for data collection vary widely. Frequently, budget limitations, organizational structure, and personnel changes result in the loss of valuable information. A better understanding of ecosystem functions and interactions and more accurate and available data describing the dynamics of ecosystem processes will result in land managers' ability to choose appropriate management solutions that minimize unexpected and undesirable outcomes. Today, in an era of limited funding, advances in computer networking and information storage can provide a means to organize, access, and distribute large quantities of data. Federal, state, local, and private agencies responsible for ecosystem data must commit to making this data available to all land managers on an equal basis, in a timely fashion, and in a form that is directly relevant and accessible to their management activities.


MDEP was envisioned as a tool to enable informed decision making for sustainable land management across an entire ecoregion that spans over 80,000 square miles. Fostered by the Department of Defense (DoD) Legacy Resource Management program and championed by the Department of the Interior (DoI), MDEP has emerged as a multiagency cooperative effort that transcends both administrative and geopolitical boundaries. For the military, this endeavor serves to support the continued mission capability of the strategic DOD installations located within the Mojave Desert ecoregion to achieve military preparedness and readiness while facilitating prudent environmental management. For the Department of the Interior this present an unprecedented opportunity to integrate the extensive resource data produced by its diverse bureaus and offices and to ensure public access to the decision making process. For state and regional land managers, as well as the general public, this program offers access to a state-of-the-art compilation of environmental resource data about the Mojave Desert ecoregion.

The MDEP database represents DoD's commitment to the utilization of peer-reviewed science to support ecosystem level land management decisions. The project goal is to develop and implement a database to facilitate collection, storage, transfer, sharing, and analysis of information regarding inventories, resource assessments, scientific documentation, and land management by all federal, state, and local agencies and other interested parties. Ultimately, a queryable computer database will be developed and deployed through the World Wide Web to provide land managers the ecosystemwide tools needed for informed decision making. As such it represents one of the first join (DOD and DoI) attempts to create a regional scale database that can be utilized to affect dynamic, sustainable land management. The project emphasizes the importance of both maintaining and improving the native biological diversity and sustainability of ecosystems. Additionally, it recognizes the need to support sustainable human activities.

MDEP is important for several reasons. It is an attempt to provide uniform data coverage across an entire scientifically defines ecoregion, regardless of political or administrative boundaries. It is strictly about data collection, interpretation, documentation, and sharing, and it provides an important model for the sharing, integration, and use of data for management purposes by a broadly varied group of participants. As stated earlier, the joining of geographic information system (GIS) and Internet technologies has provided unique circumstances for expanding interaction among agencies. Attaining the level of data sharing implicit in this program required the development and implementation of a dynamic regionwide scientific database and electronic delivery system accessible to all federal, state, regional, and local entities entrusted with the responsibility for long-term resource planning. This has been accomplished through the innovative implementation of two basic components: (1) an interconnected distributed system, electronically linked using Internet resources; and (2) a series of comprehensive and fully integrated environmental spatial databases that span the Mojave Desert ecoregion. This system has broken now ground by extending the functionality of geospatial data server technology. Access to the database is via the World Wide Web using any standard Web browser. This environmental spatial data system resides on the Internet at

The Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program in its current state, is not a management process but rather a tool to enable more accurate modeling of Mojave Desert ecological systems and facilitate decision making about their use and management. The project emphasizes two key aspects: the design and development of a scientific database that can yield the data necessary for land management agencies to base their decisions on fact, and the implementation of the system in such a manner as to encourage stakeholder participation in the design and construction of the database, as well as use of the database in management decisions. Ultimately, the Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program is a collaborative process to create a database that can yield a thorough, multidisciplinary vision of ecosystem health upon which to base informed management decisions.

The MDEP has a strong record of involvement and collaboration with agency and organizational stakeholders. This element is particularly strong with regard to interservice collaboration among the DOD installations in the Mojave region. The list of official partners has grown over the duration of the project with the addition of the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, and numerous educational institutions. With regard to collaborative efforts, the most important aspect involves the contribution of the Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program in developing a vision of ecosystem health. In effect, this is the primary objective of the project in its present form.

The Desert Managers Group (DMG) and Science Data Management Team (a working group of the Desert Managers Group, SDMT) of the Department of Interior' Innovative Management Laboratory are the primary organizational mechanisms for collaborating on design of the database and efforts to make it useful and accessible to land managers. The MDEP does not have and is not designed to have management responsibilities. It is intended for use by those who do. The DMG and SDMT provide the linkage between the MDEP and actual land and resource managers that can utilize MDEP-generated information in decision making.


The Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program currently focuses on identifying existing data and building a comprehensive, scientific database. The initial effort aims to develop the scientific base necessary to establish the ecosystem management process. The project objectives are to

1. Establish a broad-based partnership.
2. Foster cooperation and communication.
3. Reduce duplication of effort among all federal, state, and local agencies.
4. Leverage resources available in the ecoregion.
5. Enable sound, scientifically based decision making.
6. Sustain human enterprises as well as natural and cultural resources.
7. Become an NSDI Clearinghouse node.

To accomplish this, the project links a geographic information system network to the World Wide Web. This database is also accessible on CD-ROM with hard-copy print maps. The remainder of this booklet provides an overview of the data and the utility and technical documentation for each of the components that constitute this database.




In addition to the design and installation of an Internet Map Server, a second component of the program was developed and implemented to deliver spatial data through the World Wide Web. The goal was to achieve a database that would support collection, storage, transfer, sharing, and analysis of resource data. This consists of a series of comprehensive spatial databases that are seamless and fully integrated. The coverages span the entire ecoregion as defined by Bailey (see Appendix I), covering some 44,000 square miles. An additional 50-km buffer around the perimeter has been included to accommodate broader interpretations of the ecoregion. Thus, the total area of coverage (Bailey ecoregion plus 50-km bugger) spans approximately 80,000 square miles. The explicit Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) standards and well-defines parameters upon which these databases are constructed support their dynamic capacity ensuring the facile incorporation of new data.

The comprehensive spatial database that constitutes the foundation of the MDEP includes the Mojave Elevation Database with its derivative products of Shaded Relief, Slope, and Aspect. Integrated with this coverage are ancillary data sets for the Transportation Infrastructure, USGS Topographic Quadrangle Boundaries, Land Ownership Designations, and Place and Feature Names. Additional databases that are also fully integrated with the Elevation Database throughout the ecoregion include Vegetation, Bedrock Geology, Soils, Hydrology, Climate, and Mines-Prospects-Minerals Potential. Earthquake data are provided through Internet links. Remotely sensed imagery is available in three platforms and includes Landsat Thematic Mapper-Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics (TM-MRLC), Landsat Multi-Spectral Scanner-North American Land Characterization (NALC), and NOAA-Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) Composites.


The spatial database compiled for the Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program can be accessed in two ways. The first is through the World Wide Web by linking to the Mojave Desert Clearinghouse located at Ft. Irwin, California. The URL address is This link provides access to the project description, links to the database, and an interactive mapper for users to generate maps of selected areas of the desert.

The second data access method is through the CD-ROMs located in this package. The database located on the CD-ROMs I formatted in two ways. The data directly accessible to users is predominantly a reduced resolution version of the much larger database. These reduced databases are directly accessible using the node-locked version of ArcView® Version 2.1 on the CD. The resolution reduction was done for space concerns and the speed at which these data display on the screen. However, the data in it full resolution also resides on the CD-ROM in compressed form. These compressed data are available if the user copies the file from the CD-ROM onto a hard disk with sufficient space and decompresses it using the widely available PKZIP or WINZIP programs. For some of the larger databases, approximately one gigabyte of storage should be available to decompress the files.

Instructions for mounting the CDs are located on the trifold package.


CD-ROM Name   Description



Introduction DC containing a subset of all data layers

ARC/INFO Data Layers   Contains full-resolution ARC/INFO® coverages
Climate   Daily normal minimum temperatures, maximum temperatures, precipitation, and potential evapotranspiration over a thirty-year period
NOAA-AVHRR   Ten-day composites covering five years of NOAA-AVHRR satellite data
Landsat MSS   Landsat MSS composites for 1972, 1986, and 1992
Landsat TM-1   Disk 1 of 2 containing bands 1, 2, and 3 of a Landsat TM mosaic
Landsat TM-2   Disk 2 of 2 containing bands 4, 5, and 6 of a Landsat TM mosaic
Elevation   Digital elevation data consisting of elevation in meters, slope, aspect, and a shaded relief
The following directories are common to all the accompanying CD-ROMs. A short file inventory follows each directory name.



Decompression utilities

tifs   Images used with ArcView Version 2.1 for banners and other logos
dlg   Contains general transportation networks
gnis   Geographic name information system data
covers   Basic cartographic coverages
av21   ArcView Version 2.1 views and supporting data
metadata   Metadata associated with the spatial databases

This project produced under the Department of Defense's Legacy Program in cooperation with the Department of the Interior.

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