Steven E. Sesnie, Ph. D.

Spatial Ecologist
Regional Office, Albuquerque
Phone: 505-248-6631505-248-6631
Email: Steven_Sesnie at

“I see myself as a strong collaborator, providing technical and science support that leverage remotely sensed and other data to assist refuge managers, stakeholders, and collaborators with wildlife and habitat conservation needs.”

Current Projects:

Historical changes in playa wetlands – Playa wetlands are essential habitat for wintering and migratory waterfowl of the Southern High Plains. This work will establish historical trends and changes in water presence in playa wetlands during the past four decades as irrigation, agricultural and conservation practices have changed across the region. Together with collaborators David Haukos, Brandon Weihs and Gene Albanese of Kansas State University, we are using remote sensing-based methods and historical Landsat image archives to investigate changes in the amount and timing of water present in playa lakes. This work will establish where and how changes in playa wetlands may either detract or enhance waterfowl habitat over time for wetland management district planning.

A waterfowl habitat classification and monitoring protocol – Aerial waterfowl surveys have been conducted by state and federal wildlife agencies for half a century. These estimates have only recently been linked to habitat availability for resident and migratory birds. This work focuses on developing novel remote sensing-based land cover and habitat classification techniques in conjunction with aerial waterfowl surveys conducted on National Wildlife Refuge lands and surrounding landscapes. These piloted efforts are designed to test how waterfowl counts are linked to available habitat provided by the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent lands. Findings from this work will provide transparent and transferable landscape-level planning tools and a basis for enhanced waterfowl conservation partnerships between the US Fish and neighboring land ownerships.

Golden cheeked warbler habitat characterization and occupancy modeling – The Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysopparia) is a rare and endangered species of bird that breeds in Central Texas.  Much of its historical breeding habitat in oak and juniper woodlands has been cleared for human development. This project will use geospatial technologies such as airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and multispectral image data to characterize woodland habitat conditions (tree height, density, canopy cover and composition)  combined with point count surveys to develop predictive models describing habitat occupancy at the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding landscape. Geospatial and occupancy modeling techniques will be used to highlight critical habitat areas in addition to locations where forest restoration activities may be used to enhance warbler habitat.

Strategic growth initiative and protocol for establishing a sustainable conservation estate – Maintaining wildlife conservation networks that are resilient to future changes in climate and surrounding landscape conditions is a critical task for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation partners. New ways of anticipating and planning for change are needed to sustainably manage wildlife populations long into the future. This project focuses on global warming, sea level rise and human land use trends that may threaten Texas Gulf Coast and prairie ecosystems that are highly vulnerable to these processes. This project will account for these changes to appropriately select new lands that will afford the greatest opportunities for sustainably managing and protecting wildlife populations. We are developing integrated land change detection and modern reserve design tools that can highlight landscape conditions providing the best opportunities for future growth the National Wildlife Refuge System and other conservation areas.

Southwest fire atlas – Fire is an important ecosystem process and land management tool that, in part, drives vegetation composition and structure on Southwest National Wildlife Refuge Lands. This project will develop a contemporary fire atlas of when, where and to what extent fires have occurred on all National Wildlife Refuge lands in the Southwest Region from the 1980s to present. Remotely sensed fire perimeter data will provide baseline information for land managers and researchers to monitor the impacts of fire on refuge lands from which to develop future management alternatives.

Masked bobwhite quail species distribution models (SDMs) – The last confirmed occurrence of a wild masked bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi) occurred in the US in 1897. Since that time, only a few small wild populations of masked bobwhites have been encountered Mexico’s Sonoran desert. Habitat loss and overgrazing of native Sonoran grasslands are principal drivers of population declines, in addition to periodic drought impacting forage productivity and cover. In order to design and target field surveys for this critically endangered species, new methods for detecting suitable habitat conditions are needed. This project consolidates relatively recent occurrence and habitat records from 2000 to present and expert information on habitat characteristics to develop preliminary species distribution models for the masked bobwhite across its historical range. Geospatial data layers such as satellite derived plant phenology metrics, terrain models and bioclimatic variables are being used as principal SDM covariates. Mapped probability of suitable habitat will help guide field studies to define appropriate habitat conservation areas and management for this species for the US and Mexico.

Previous Projects:
I was an Assistant Research Professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, focusing on remote sensing and spatial analysis, forest and grassland ecology, and landscape analysis. As a principal investigator in the Lab of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology, I led efforts to develop cutting-edge spatial data and models of vegetative composition and structure across millions of acres of heterogeneous southwestern ecosystems. Recent publications focus on integrated science and novel analytical approaches to spatial analysis that combine models of vegetation composition and structure, wildlife occupancy, plant phenology, applications of spatial analysis in community and landscape ecology applied to land and resource monitoring and management, both in the southwestern US and Neotropics. I am currently affiliate faculty at NAU and lead a newly equipped high-resolution spectroscopy laboratory for environmental monitoring and remote sensing applications.

Ph.D., 2007, University of Idaho & CATIE, Forest Resources (Remote Sensing & GIS emphasis)
M.S., 2001, Northern Arizona University, Forestry
B.S., 1987, Colorado State University, Forest Biology
A. S., 1984, Morrisville College, NY, Natural Resource Conservation

Scientific Interests:
I actively pursue integrated research on a variety of environmental topics involving the use of high-resolution near-infrared spectroscopy ( and remote sensing of plants, soil, animal habitat and landscape disturbances. This work has typically involved land managers and people from a variety of agencies and stakeholder groups.

Other interests:
When not working my favorite pursuits are spending time with family, cycling, canyoneering, backcountry skiing and mountaineering, fly fishing, bird watching, forest and desert hikes, trap shooting, international travel, tropical dendrology, environmental history, Latin American literature, Spanish and Portuguese languages, and gardening.

Selected Publications:

Fagan, M.E., R.S. Defries, S.E. Sesnie, J.P. Arroyo-Mora, C. Soto, A. Singh, P.A. Townsend, and R.L. Chazdon. 2015. Mapping species composition of forest and tree plantations in northeastern Costa Rica with an integration of hyperspectral and multitemporal Landsat imagery. Remote Sensing. 7:5660-5696. get pdf

Sankey, T., B. Dickson, S. Sesnie, O. Wang, A. Olsson, and L. Zachmann. 2014. WorldView-2 high spatial resolution improves desert invasive plant detection. ASPRS – Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing. 80: 885-893. get pdf

Wang, O., L.J. Zachmann, S.E. Sesnie, A.D. Olsson, and B.G. Dickson. 2014. An interative and targeted sampling design informed by habitat suitability models for detecting focal plant species over extensive areas. PlosOne 9: 1-14. get pdf

Sesnie, S.E., J.M. Mueller, and S. E. Lehnen. 2014. Airborne laser altimetry for strategic habitat conservation planning on National Wildlife Refuge lands. LiDAR News. 4: 64-69. get pdf

Ray, C.T., B.G. Dickson, T.D. Sisk, and S.E. Sesnie. 2014. Spatial application of a predictive wildlife occurrence model to assess alternative forest management scenarios in northern Arizona. Forest Ecology and Management. 322: 117-126. get pdf

Dickson, B.G., T.D. Sisk, S.E. Sesnie, R.T. Reynolds, S.S. Rosenstock, C.D. Vojta, M.F. Ingraldi, and J.M. Rundall. 2014. Integrating single-species management and landscape conservation using regional habitat occurrence models: the northern goshawk in the Southwest, USA. Landscape Ecology 29: 803-815. get pdf

Kenkel, J.A., T. Sisk, K. Hultine, S.Sesnie, M. Bowker and N. Collins Johnson. 2013. Cars and canyons: understanding roadside impacts of automobile pollution in Grand Canyon National Park. Park Science 30: 52-57. get pdf

Fagan, M.E., R.S. DeFries, S.E. Sesnie, P.J Arroyo, W. Walker, C. Soto, R.L. Chazdon and A. Sanchun. 2013. Land cover dynamics following a deforestation band in northern Costa Rica. Environmental Research Letters 8: 1-9. get pdf

Dickson, B. G., S. E. Sesnie, E. Fleishman, and D. S. Dobkin. 2013. Identification of habitat and assessment of habitat quality for conservation of terrestrial animals. Invited chapter in F.L. Craighead and C.L. Convis, eds., Conservation planning from the bottom up: a practical guide to tools and techniques for the twenty-first century. Esri Press, Redlands, CA. Pp149-173.

Bradley, B.A, A.D. Olsson, O. Wang, B.G. Dickson, L. Pelech, S.E. Sesnie, and L.J. Zachmann. 2012. Species detection vs. habitat suitability: Are we biasing habitat suitability models with remotely sensed data? Ecological Modelling 244: 57-64.

Sesnie, S.E., B.G. Dickson, J.M. Rundall, and Thomas D. Sisk. 2012. Assessment of mixed conifer forest conditions, North Kaibab Ranger District, Arizona, USA. In: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Conference of Research on the Colorado Plateau, Integrating Science and Management on the Colorado Plateau, October 5-7, 2009, Flagstaff, AZ. Pp. 23-42. get pdf  (in press version)

Frary, V.J., M.F. Ingraldi, S.E. Sesnie, and V. Horncastle. 2011. Landscape-scale identification of Merriam’s wild turkey roosting habitat in a managed ponderosa pine forest. In: Proceedings of the 10th National Wild Turkey Symposium, December 6 – 10, 2010  Shepherdstown, WV. Pp. 293-300. get pdf

Sesnie, S.E. , B.G. Dickson, S.S. Rosenstock, and J.M. Rundall. 2011. A comparison of Landsat TM and MODIS vegetation indices for estimating forage phenology in desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelson) habitat in the Sonoran Desert, USA. International Journal of Remote Sensing 33: 276-286.get pdf

Hampton, H.M., S.E. Sesnie, J.D. Bailey and G.B. Snider. 2011. Estimating regional wood supply based on stakeholder consensus for forest restoration in northern Arizona. Journal of Forestry 109: 15-26.get pdf

Sesnie, S.E. , B. Finegan, P. Gessler, S. Thessler, Z. Ramos and A. Smith. 2010. The multispectral separability of Costa Rican rain forest types with Random Forest decision trees and Support Vector Machines. International Journal of Remote Sensing 31: 2885-2909.get pdf

Morse, W.C., J.L. Schedlbauer, S.E. Sesnie, B. Finegan, C.A. Harvey, S. Hollenhorst, D. Stoian. 2009. Consequences of environmental service payments for forest retention and recruitment in a Costa Rican Biological Corridor. Ecology and Society 14(1): 23. get pdf

Sesnie, S.E. , B. Finegan, P. Gessler and Z. Ramos. 2009. Landscape-scale environmental and floristic variation in Costa Rican old-growth rain forest remnants. Biotropica 41: 16-26.get pdf

Sesnie, S.E. , P. Gessler, B. Finegan, and S. Thessler. 2008.Integrating Landsat TM and SRTM-DEM derived variables with decision trees for habitat classification and change detection in complex neotropical environments. Remote Sensing of Environment 112: 2145-2159.get pdf

Thessler, S., S.E. Sesnie, Z. Ramos and B. Finegan. 2008. Image segmentation and K-nearest neighbor routines for detecting forest types with Landsat TM imagery in northern Costa Rica. Remote Sensing of Environment 112: 2485-2494. get pdf

Sesnie, S.E. , S.E. Hagell, S.M. Otterstrom, C.L. Chambers and B.G. Dickson. 2008. SRTM-DEM and Landsat ETM+ data for mapping tropical dry forest cover and biodiversity assessment in Nicaragua. Revista Geografica Acadêmica 2: 53-65.get pdf

Schedlbauer, J.L., S.E. Sesnie, and W.C. Morse. 2008. Efficacy of environmental service payments for forest conservation in the San Juan – La Selva Biological Corridor. Basins and Coasts 2: 31-35.get pdf

Sesnie, S.E. and J. Bailey. 2003. Using history to plan the future of old-growth ponderosa pine. Journal of Forestry 101 (7): 40-47.get pdf

Mathiasen, R.L., J. Melgar, J.S. Beatty, C.G. Parks, D.L. Nickrent, S.E. Sesnie, C.M. Daugherty, B.E. Howell, and G.N. Garnett. 2003. New distribution and hosts for mistletoes parasitizing pines in southern Mexico and Central America. Madroño 50: 115-121.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.