Welcome to the NPLCC Priorities Tool

A watershed visualization and priorities decision support system for the North Pacific LCC developed by Ecotrust.


Federal, State and local land managers and land management agencies are increasingly interested in identifying priority habitat and ecosystems at multiple scales, and the ability to assess these priorities with respect to vulnerabilities such as threats imposed by the potential effects of climate change. However, their efforts to do so are hampered by a lack of appropriate tools and access to the latest and best region wide data sets, in particular, data sets pertaining to climate change. Managing for multiple objectives requires new data, as well as the ability to compile, sort, and quantitatively analyze them, particularly with respect to tradeoffs and synergies among a diverse set of objectives.

Natural resource planners currently have very limited access to the myriad of current data sets generated by universities, government agencies, non-profits and other NPLCC stakeholders. Without easy access and the ability to interpret these data, stakeholders interested in addressing restoration and conservation issues are at a disadvantage. In September, 2011, The North Pacific LCC awarded Ecotrust a grant to develop a conservation priorities tool intended to address the problems. This spatially explicit, on-line tool is intended to assist the North Pacific LCC and other natural resource managers, individuals, and community organizations in accessing disparate data sources for understanding and visualizing a wide variety of data sets pertaining to species, threats and potential effects of climate change on freshwater and forest ecosystems throughout the North Pacific LCC geographic area.

Utilizing the codebase developed as part of the Madrona framework, we developed the NPLCC prioritization tool - an open-source Decision Support Tool, freely available online, where climate and natural resource conservation data can be readily visualized and explored. This dynamic tool gives users the ability to instantly identify climate change vulnerability and visualize the results of a range of assumptions by running analyses based on users’ selection of input parameters. This Decision Support Tool advances resource conservation by fostering the collaboration and communication of scientists, policy-makers, natural resource planners and managers, and landowners.

The tool includes a wide array of spatially explicit data pertaining to aquatic and terrestrial species including data on a variety of mammal, bird and fish species. Users can explore these raw data sets as well as the data summarized to level 5 Hydro 1-k watersheds (a geographic database produced by the USGS providing comprehensive and consistent global coverage of topographically derived basin boundaries). As well, users can explore data pertaining to climate change and a wide variety of anthropogenic threats to watershed condition and species health. These data also are provided in their raw form as well as summarized to hydro 1k level 5 watersheds. Please see detailed documentation for the focal species , climate change and watershed condition to gain a better understanding of what data exist in the tool, where we obtained it and how it was collected and processed.

At the heart of the tool is a prioritization process that allows users to specify an area of interest, species of interest and constraints (such as vulnerability to climate change or threats to watershed condition). The process results in a set of level 5 hydro-1k watersheds that represents priority watersheds to meet the user defined objectives. The process draws on computational heuristic application known as Marxan (a widely used and well vetted conservation planning tool) on the backend and provides an easy to use interface that facilitates user input and interaction with the back end model. While freely available, Marxan is generally inaccessible to all but a handful of highly technical users. This tool, albeit for only generalized use and visualization, for the first time provides an easy to use interface for Marxan that allows resource managers, conservation planners, concerned citizens and other non-technical users to develop generalized priorities using this sophisticated process. Please read the detailed documentation to gain an understanding of the purpose, limitations and products associated with the prioritization process model.

Data and Methods

This tool allows users to identify priority species and consider current and future landscape conditions in order to create watershed priorities across or within the North Pacific LCC region. The data and analyses that inform the tool's inputs are described below. Please see the data dictionary for a detailed list of data sources used to inform this tool.

Wildlife Data

The tool includes a variety of species distribution data from fish to birds to mammals. These data were collected from a variety of sources, at varying scales, geographic coverage, and units of analysis. See the detailed documentation on focal species for additional information, including the geographic coverage of each species included in the tool.

Watershed Condition

Healthy, functioning watersheds are essential for sustaining species populations as well as fundamental ecosystem services. In order to include the most comprehensive data in the tool, as well as to facilitate cross-region priority setting, we used only datasets that spanned the entire North Pacific region. Please see the detailed documentation for a description of the approach to watershed condition mapping.

Vulnerability to Climate Change

Climate change has the potential to alter freshwater habitat in complex ways that we have yet to fully understand. These changes will greatly affect the health and distribution of native plant and wildlife species. Although a comprehensive, downscaled climate impacts dataset was not available to us, but there are two major data-mapping efforts that supplement each other to cover the region: Climate Impacts Group (CIG), of the University of Washington, and the Scenarios Network for Alaska & Arctic Planning (SNAP) have created downscaled datasets modeling the effects of climate change for the greater Columbia River Basin and Alaska and British Columbia, respectively. Stream flow data from CIG, Trout Unlimited, and the USDA Forest Service are available within the same region as CIG’s temperature and precipitation data as well. Additionally, species-specific climate niche data are available for the entire North Pacific region. Each metric was summarized to the watershed level using hydrologic boundary data from Wild Salmon Center To address these potential effects, we identified vulnerability to climate change based on projected changes in air temperature, stream flow regime, and wildfire risk . Areas that are relatively more vulnerable to climate change then are avoided (if possible) in the prioritization process when climate change vulnerability is considered. See the detailed documentation on the approach to identifying climate change vulnerability for additional information.