Scott Butterfield

Senior Scientist
Terrestrial
[email protected]

In The Nature Conservancy’s California Chapter, Scott manages a long-standing engagement at the Carrizo Plain, studies the application of remote sensing to rangeland management and monitoring, and studies the compatibility between biodiversity protection and solar energy development. Scott helps lead a San Joaquin Desert research team made up of university, agency, and NGO scientists, focused on addressing recovery goals for threatened and endangered species like blunt-nosed leopard lizard, giant kangaroo rat, and San Joaquin kit fox.

Scott holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior from Michigan State University where he studied the application of remote sensing and other geospatial technologies to rangeland management and monitoring, and also their effect on and usage by the California rancher and range management community.

What Scott is working on now:

I’m finishing up an analysis that will help us identify lands with the highest conservation value for restoration to support recovery of threatened and endangered San Joaquin Desert species, and exploring ways to continue to export RDMappper, our remote sensing-based land monitoring tool, to additional conservation and agency partners.


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2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Better late than never: a synthesis of strategic land retirement and restoration in California

Chris Lortie, Alex Filazzola, Rodd Kelsey, Abigail Hart, Scott Butterfield

Over the past 100 years, California's Central Valley has undergone a massive transformation from desert to a mosaic of farmland and urban development. This transformation has also meant many desert species have lost habitat. Now, new groundwater regulations are calling for the retirement of more…



2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Harnessing cross-border resources to confront climate change

Aburto-Oropeza, O., M. Edwards, S. Butterfield, and 93 additional authors

The U.S. and Mexico face many shared ecological changes due to the increased frequency and severity of droughts and rising energy demands; trends that entail economic costs for both nations and major implications for human well-being. This paper synthesizes current knowledge about the most pressing issues…


2017 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Identification of potentially suitable habitat for strategic land retirement and restoration in the San Joaquin Desert

H. Scott Butterfield, Rodd Kelsey, Abigail Hart, Tanushree Biswas, Mark Kramer, Dick Cameron, Laura Crane, Erica Brand

California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) established a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management. SGMA requires groundwater-dependent regions to halt overdraft and bring basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge. As a result, agricultural land retirement is on the rise in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s largest agricultural region and home to…


2017 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Testing a Remote Sensing-Based Interactive System for Monitoring Grazed Conservation Lands

Lawrence D. Ford, H. Scott Butterfield, Pete A. Van Hoorn, Kasey B. Allen, Ethan Inlander, Carrie Schloss, Falk Schuetzenmeister, Miriam Tsalyuk

The Nature Conservancy developed RDMapper, a web-based tool that uses satellite-based productivity estimates, rainfall records, and compliance history to identify easement properties at risk of being below the required level of RDM. TNC successfully used RDMapper in 2015 and 2016 to predict compliance across ~47,000…


2017 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Novel fine-scale aerial mapping approach quantifies grassland weed cover dynamics and response to management

Carolyn M. Malmstrom, H. Scott Butterfield, Laura Planck, Christopher W. Long, Valerie T. Eviner

Invasive weeds threaten the biodiversity and forage productivity of grasslands worldwide. However, management of these weeds is constrained by the practical difficulty of detecting small-scale infestations across large landscapes and by limits in understanding of landscape-scale invasion dynamics. This study demonstrates the application of a…


2017 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Persistence of historical population structure in an endangered species despite near-complete biome conversion in California’s San Joaquin Desert

Jonathan Q. Richmond, Dustin A. Wood, Michael F. Westphal, Amy G. Vandergast, Adam D. Leache, Lawrence R. Saslaw, H. Scott Butterfield, Robert N. Fisher

This paper uses novel genetic approaches to document how land conversion in the San Joaquin Desert has affected population connectivity and relatedness in the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard. The authors use these data to identify conservation areas where species could exist now and in the…



2016 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

A picture is worth a thousand data points: an imagery dataset of paired shrub-open microsites within the Carrizo Plain National Monument

Taylor J. Noble , Christopher J. Lortie , Michael Westphal, H.Scott Butterfield

This paper presents camera trap data comprising over 425,000 images from the Carrizo Plain National Monument. This unique collection of digital images allowed the authors to capture animal behaviours and plant-animal interactions that would difficult to do using human observation alone. The dataset provides direct…


2016 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Contemporary Drought and Future Effects of Climate Change on the Endangered Blunt-Nosed Leopard Lizard, Gambelia sila

Michael F. Westphal, Joseph A. E. Stewart, Erin N. Tennant, H. Scott Butterfield, Barry Sinervo

This paper documents the negative effects of the 2012-2014 drought—the most severe multi-year drought in southwestern North America in the past 1,200 years—on the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard in the San Joaquin Desert of California. It provides a unique view of the potential effects of…


2015 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Monitoring the Impact of Grazing on Rangeland Conservation Easements Using MODIS Vegetation Indices

Miriam Tsalyuk, Maggi Kelly, Kevin Koy, Wayne M. Getz, H. Scott Butterfield

Monitoring the effects of grazing on rangelands is crucial for ensuring sustainable rangeland ecosystem function and maintaining conservation values. Residual dry matter (RDM), the dry grass biomass left on the ground at the end of the grazing season, is a commonly used proxy for rangeland condition…


2014 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

A multi-scale distribution model for non-equilibrium populations suggests resource limitation in an endangered rodent

Tim Bean, Bob Stafford, Scott Butterfield, Justin Brashares

This paper presents a multi-step approach to estimate the realized and potential distribution of the endangered giant kangaroo rat. The authors estimate the potential distribution by modeling suitability using static bioclimatic variables, then examine annual changes in extent at a population-level. The best model indicated the…


2014 | Terrestrial | Technology | Publications & Reports

Remote Sensing and Residual Dry Matter Monitoring

H. Scott Butterfield, Miriam Tsalyuk, Carrie Schloss

The Nature Conservancy in California monitors residual dry matter (RDM) on approximately 300,000 acres of conservation lands. Researchers evaluated whether satellite remote sensing data could be used to monitor RDM, thereby decreasing costs and increasing the overall effectiveness and long-term sustainability of the monitoring…



2014 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Species distribution models of an endangered rodent offer conflicting measures of habitat quality at multiple scales

Tim Bean, Laura Prugh, Bob Stafford, Scott Butterfield, Mike Westphal, Justin Brashares

In this study, the authors developed a suite of species distribution models (SDMs) for the endangered giant kangaroo rat using the machine-learning method Maxent. They compared these models with three measures of habitat quality: survival, abundance and body condition. Species distribution models were not correlated…


2013 | Terrestrial | Planning | Data

Western San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment data

Butterfield, H.S., D. Cameron, E. Brand, M. Webb, E. Forsburg, M. Kramer, E. O’Donoghue, L. Crane

The Western San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment characterizes the land use constraints and opportunities associated with siting solar energy facilities in the Western San Joaquin Valley (WSJV). Because the San Joaquin Valley currently has no official process to develop a conservation and…


2013 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Western San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment

Butterfield, H.S., D. Cameron, E. Brand, M. Webb, E. Forsburg, M. Kramer, E. O’Donoghue, L. Crane

A Conservancy analysis of the western Mojave Desert identified where human activities had degraded the conservation value of lands making them potentially low impact locations for development of solar facilities. In this assessment authors applied that same approach in the Western San Joaquin Valley—an area with…


2013 | Terrestrial | Planning | Maps & Webmaps

Western San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment webmap

Megan Webb, Scott Butterfield

This webmap is a product of The Nature Conservancy’s 2013 Western San Joaquin Valley (WSJV) Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment which characterizes the land use and conservation constraints and opportunities associated with siting solar energy facilities in the WSJV in California. This approach identified areas with high…


2012 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

An evaluation of monitoring methods for the endangered giant kangaroo rat

Tim Bean, Bob Stafford, Laura Prugh, Scott Butterfield, Justin Brashares

This paper compares the efficacy of different monitoring methods for estimating distribution, abundance, and population growth of the endangered giant kangaroo rat to determine the best practices for monitoring. Expert rapid assessment of sites performed nearly as well as trapping in determining range extent, while…


2008 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

One size does not fit all: the use of cattle grazing for grassland management at Carrizo Plain National Monument

Caroline Christian , Lawrence Saslaw, H. Scott Butterfield

To better understand the ecological role of cattle grazing in managing Carrizo Plain National Monument, we initiated a long-term study in 1997 designed to evaluate the effects of cattle grazing on native plant communities and giant kangaroo rats. Contrary to grazing studies conducted elsewhere in…