Using photographic image analysis to assess ground cover: A case study of forest road cutbanks

Kevin C. Bold, Frederica Wood, Pamela J Edwards, Karl W.J. Williard, Jon E. Schoonover

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Road prisms, including cutbanks, road surfaces, and fillslopes, can be important contributors of sediment to streams in forested watersheds. Following road construction, cutbanks and fillslopes are often seeded, mulched, and sometimes fertilized to limit erosion and sedimentation. Assessing the success of vegetation establishment on cutbanks and fillslopes is a common task of forested land managers. This study developed and applied a photographic image analysis method to assess percent ground cover along an entire cutbank of a cut-and-fill haul road in the Monongahela National Forest in Tucker County, West Virginia. Variable-sized sections were employed to quantify the vegetative cover. Measurements obtained by this technique were similar to more commonly applied fixed-area plots, and it proved to be a useful tool for land managers who require a more repeatable quantification of ground cover than is possible through visual assessments. Cutbank slope and aspect also were analyzed to determine their potential impact on cutbank vegetation establishment. Slope was not a significant variable in explaining differences in vegetation cover; however, aspect did affect vegetation establishment. South-facing aspects had significantly lower percent vegetation cover than northeast, east, northwest, and north northwest aspects after the first year following seeding and throughout the entire study. Mean percent cover on the south-facing cutbanks was 32% over all time periods, compared to 60% to 73% for the other represented aspects. This result was expected since south-facing slopes generally are drier in the growing season and are subject to more freeze-thaw cycles in the winter. Timber felled onto the cutbank also decreased vegetative cover in the short term on north and north northwest aspects, but vegetation quickly became reestablished on these aspects with their favorable growing conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-698
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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