Author Archives: bridgetmacdonald

Putting science on the map

Conservation-road-map

Where the rubber meets the road: Over the past several months, staff from the North Atlantic and Appalachian LCCs have met with partners at two dozen sites to present innovative conservation science. Click the map for more details.

At first glance, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think the image on the right was one of those “Where we fly” maps airlines tuck into seat-back pockets, along with all that other stuff you only notice when you finish your book or your iPod battery dies mid-flight.

But the red markers on that map aren’t popular destinations for weekend jet setters or hubs for business travelers. Well, some of them probably are, but more importantly, those places are all hotspots for something else: early adopters of innovative conservation.

Those are the two dozen (and counting) different venues where staff from the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative and Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative have met with state, federal, and non-profit conservation organizations over the past several months to present tools designed to address urgent conservation needs with the best available regional science. Needs like restoring aquatic connectivity, protecting habitat for rare species, and maintaining biodiversity in the context of a changing climate.

More than just hundreds of miles on the road, thousands of frequent flyer points, and an unfathomable amount of coffee, those red markers represent five years spent laying the groundwork for a new conservation strategy. Since the establishment of the Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) Network in 2010, LCCs have developed foundational information, conducted assessments of resource conditions and threats, created decision-support tools, and fostered collaborative networks to unite partners across boundaries. Now with more and more of these resources becoming available, LCCs are doing the legwork to transfer that science to partners who can use it to address a range of large-scale conservation priorities.

For the LCCs, that map represents the rubber meeting the road. And it’s only the beginning.

Take a tour of a few places where the LCCs have met with partners to present new conservation tools, and learn how these partners are planning to put these tools to work in their jurisdictions.

Snapshots from the 2015 LCC Science Delivery Road Trip

1. Virginia is for Conservation Lovers

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Venue: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Headquarters

Audience:  More than 40 staff members from programs throughout the state agency

Presenters: Jean Brennan and Jessica Rhodes from the Appalachian LCC, Andrew Milliken and Scott Schwenk from the North Atlantic LCC, and Rua Mordecai and Hilary Morris from the South Atlantic LCC

Featured tools:

  • Designing Sustainable Landscapes – A suite of datasets to identify areas with the greatest potential to support key species, habitats, and biodiversity in the face of land-use pressures and climate change
  • Riparian Prioritization for Climate Change Resilience – Identifies stream and riverbanks that lack canopy cover and shade in cold-water stream habitats to allow managers to strategically plant trees to mitigate solar heating
  • Southeast Conservation Blueprint – A spatially explicit plan describing the places and actions needed to meet shared conservation objectives in the face of future change

Moving forward: Virginia staff expressed support for multi-scale restoration tools and planning efforts, and the proposal to knit together spatial conservation plans across and within Virginia’s borders and the Northeast and Southeast region to create a cohesive picture of the entire landscape.

Face-to-face technical support: North Atlantic LCC GIS Analyst Renee Farnsworth offers guidance during a workshop organized to help partners apply regional climate data when making local conservation decisions.

Face-to-face technical support: North Atlantic LCC GIS Analyst Renee Farnsworth offers guidance during a workshop organized to help partners apply regional climate data when making local conservation decisions.

2. The Northeast Kingdom for Aquatic Habitat

Location: Brunswick, Vermont

Venue: Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Nulhegan Basin Division Office

Audience: 10 representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited

Presenters: Andrew Milliken from the North Atlantic LCC, and representatives from the FWS Conte Refuge and Lake Champlain Resource Office, and Trout Unlimited

Featured tools:

Moving forward: Partners will be helping to refine LCC data with local information, and to start applying the tools in the Nulhegan Basin to enhance current aquatic connectivity efforts and identify priorities for future work.

3. Floating LCC Science in the Chesapeake Bay

Location: Annapolis, Maryland

Venue: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office

Audience: 30 staff members from multiple U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs.

Presenters: Andrew Milliken, Scott Schwenk, and Renee Farnsworth from the North Atlantic LCC, and Todd Petty from the West Virginia University

Featured tools:

  • Chesapeake Bay Brook Trout Assessment – A visualization tool to measure natural and human factors that influence brook trout occurrence at multiple scales
  • Connect the Connecticut – A landscape conservation design for the Connecticut River watershed that identifies a network of priority lands and waters capable of supporting wildlife and natural processes into the future
  • Wildlife Species Models – An assessment of the relative habitat and climate suitability of sites across the Northeast, currently available for 14 representative species

Moving forward: Chesapeake Bay staff will be looking for overlap between areas identified as priorities for ecosystems and species using LCC tools and nutrient reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, assessing restoration priorities, and determining next steps for applying the landscape conservation design approach to the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge and beyond in the watershed.

4. A Watershed Moment in the Tennessee River Basin

Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Venue: Tennessee River Basin Network Workshop and Awards Celebration at the Tennessee Aquarium

Audience: More than 85 stakeholders representing federal, state government agencies, local, regional, and national conservation organizations, and academia

Presenters: Jean Brennan and Jessica Rhodes from the Appalachian LCC

Featured tools:

  • Energy Forecast Model – Using data on trends in energy development, the tool predicts where potential coal, natural gas, and wind developments will intersect with areas of high natural value, such as intact forests and vital watersheds
  • Riparian Prioritization for Climate Change Resilience – Identifies stream and riverbanks that lack canopy cover and shade in cold-water stream habitats to allow managers to strategically plant trees to mitigate solar heating

Moving forward: Partners are creating a collaborative network within the Basin in order to use and share tools, data, and lessons learned that can help inform strategic prioritization, and achieve successes in conserving and improving aquatic biodiversity in the Tennessee River Watershed.

5. Securing the Environmental Future of the Keystone State

Location: State College, Pennsylvania

Venue: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pennsylvania Field Office

Audience: 12 staff members from the Pennsylvania and New York U.S. FWS Field Offices

Presenters: Jean Brennan and Jessica Rhodes from the Appalachian LCC

Featured tools:

  • Energy Forecast Model – Using data on trends in energy development, the tool predicts where potential coal, natural gas, and wind developments will intersect with areas of high natural value, such as intact forests and vital watersheds
  • Riparian Prioritization for Climate Change Resilience – Identifies stream and riverbanks that lack canopy cover and shade in cold-water stream habitats to allow managers to strategically plant trees to mitigate solar heating

Moving forward: FWS staff were encouraged by the breadth of tools available after having the opportunity to apply them to real issues during case study sessions. The LCC will continue to deliver resources to various audiences throughout the region in the coming months and years.

The Spy Who Came in From the Marsh: New Sensors Gather Intelligence on Storms Like Joaquin

October 2, 2015

Dear Joaquin,

I’ve been watching the news coverage of your impending arrival. They’ve been interviewing coastal scientists in the mid-Atlantic states. They’re onto you. Head out to sea!

Sandy

—–

Intrepid scientists from FWS and USGS venture out in Nor'easter conditions to to deploy sensors designed to measure wave dynamics during storms.

A team of intrepid scientists from US FWS and USGS venture out in Nor’easter conditions to deploy sensors designed to measure wave dynamics during storms. Credit: Laura Mitchell/USFWS

If you happened to be at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, October 2 — just 48 hours before the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Joaquin — you might have wondered if you were witnessing a qualifying event for the next season of “Survivor,” or perhaps just an ill-advised dare.

You would have been witnessing something much more exciting: coastal resilience science in action.

In spite of the conditions — extreme high tides, poor visibility, gale-force winds — a team of scientists from the Coastal Delaware National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the U.S. Geological Survey were out on foot and in canoes installing wave sensors at docking poles, many of which were under water at the time.  

Perhaps it’s a little misleading to say the scientists went out “in spite of” the conditions; they went out because of the conditions. Prime Hook is one of dozens of study sites in the Surge, Wave, and Tide Hydrodynamics (SWaTH) Network – an effort initiated in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to measure wave height, force, speed, and extent during hurricane-induced storm surges. It’s just one of a suite projects supported by Department of Interior Hurricane Sandy Recovery Funding to help natural and human communities weather the storms that are predicted to become increasingly frequent and intense as a result of climate change.

The data collected by the SWaTH sensors will be used to refine storm-surge models, create more accurate flood forecasts, design more effective flood-protection infrastructure, and develop wiser land-use policies.

Although Joaquin veered off into the Atlantic before reaching Prime Hook, the preceding Nor’easter provided useful wave data for SWaTH, that will also provide positive reinforce for another project inspired by Hurricane Sandy: the restoration of 4,000 acres of marsh that had been impounded in the 1980s to create freshwater habitat for waterfowl.

Just after the turn of the 21st century, a succession of major storms breached the barrier dunes between Delaware Bay and the impoundments, inundating them with saltwater to the dismay of the freshwater vegetation within.

“Sandy was the final nail in the coffin,” explained Restoration Project Manager Bart Wilson. “About four breaches turned into seven, and suddenly we had this huge area of free-flowing water between the bay and the refuge.”

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Prime Hook received resilience funding to dredge 1.1 million cubic acres of sand from a historic salt marsh to restore natural flow, and ultimately, restore the system's natural capacity to serve as a buffer for storm surges.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Prime Hook received resilience funding to dredge 1.1 million cubic acres of sand from a historic salt marsh to restore natural flow, and ultimately, restore the system’s natural capacity to serve as a buffer for storm surges. Credit: Richard Weiner

But Sandy was also an opportunity. Prime Hook received $38 million in recovery and resilience funding to fill the breaches in the barrier dunes, and dredge more than a million cubic yards of sand from the historic salt marsh channels.

“Once the breaches have been filled, and we have natural channels flowing again, the water level will drop, exposing mud flats that will recolonize with saltmarsh vegetation over the next several years,” Wilson said.

Bart Wilson

Prime Hook Restoration Manager Bart Wilson. Credit: FWS

Although the primary motivation for the project was to restore salt marsh habitat, Wilson pointed out that in the context of future storms, local communities will reap the benefits as well. Literally. As a result of severe flooding from storms, farmers neighboring the refuge have seen the edges of their fields go fallow. Thousands of acres of healthy saltmarsh would have provided a tremendous natural buffer for upland areas.  

“If we had a giant marsh where we have open water now, we wouldn’t even blink an eye during these storms,” Wilson said. “Seawater would wash over the dunes, saltmarsh grass would catch the sand, life would go on.”

It’s a plausible scenario, but Wilson explained that the added value of Prime Hook’s participation in the SWaTH Network is that it will enable them to quantify the value of the restoration project in terms of increasing storm-surge protection. By continually deploying the sensors in advance of storms throughout the multi-year restoration process, scientists will be able to measure how wave dynamics change as the area transitions from open water, to mudflats, to 50-percent vegetation, to a fully restored marsh.

“We can say that salt marshes reduce wave action and flooding, but it will be great to have data to back that up,” he said.

In time, that data can be used to support similar salt marsh restoration projects that will help fortify human and natural coastal communities that are most vulnerable to sea-level rise and major storms.

Considering climate change predictions, Wilson noted, “It’s great timing that we’re doing this now.”

Spread the word, Joaquin.

Everything’s coming up brook trout, and not a moment too soon

For anglers, citizens, and scientists alike, the Eastern brook trout is more than just a fish; it’s an icon.

It’s a prized catch, the official fish of nine states, and an aquatic “canary in the coal mine.” Because brook trout depend upon clean, cold water habitat, a lack of brook trout is a good indicator that something’s amiss.

What lies beneath? With sophisticated new modeling tools, resource managers can better protect cold water habitat that eastern brook trout depend upon in the context of a warming climate.

What lies beneath? With sophisticated new modeling tools that take climate change into account, resource managers can better protect cold water habitat that eastern brook trout and other species depend upon.

Well, something’s amiss alright. After more than a century of population decline resulting from habitat loss, and competition from invasive species, brook trout are starting to feel the heat from climate change as well.

Not only does that make matters worse for brook trout, it makes matters more complicated for resource managers. “The big three threats – climate change, invasive species, and land use – all interact, so they all need to be taken into consideration,”  said Mark Hudy, Science Advisor to the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV). Any one of them can trump success against the others.”

That means if you have pristine habitat with no invasive species, but the water temperature is rising: No brook trout. Or if the water is ice cold and there are no exotic competitors, but the adjacent land is being converted into a theme park: No brook trout.

Fortunately, partners from all sectors are joining forces to tackle “the big three” with the right tools, using the best available science supported by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the EBTJV, and others.  

“These new models that are coming out take into account these complex interactions to help partnerships direct their efforts, and invest their first dollar in places where they are mostly likely to be most successful,” said Hudy.

Here is a snapshot of three new tools that are throwing brook trout a life line in the face of environmental change:

  1. Riparian Restoration Decision Support Tool
  2. Chesapeake Bay Brook Trout Assessment and Decision Support Tool
  3. Forecasting Changes in Aquatic Systems and Resilience of Brook Trout

Some like it cold: The Riparian Restoration Decision Support Tool,  funded by the Appalachian LCC

The threat

Seemingly minor changes in temperature can have major ripple effects for populations of cold-water dependent species like eastern brook trout. Given the implications for freshwater resources from warming associated with climate change, resource managers need to act strategically to mitigate the impacts on aquatic communities.

The response

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the U.S. Forest Service developed a modeling approach that combines data on land cover, elevation, and aspect to help identify streams and rivers with the potential to maintain cold water in the face of rising air temperature, but lack adequate tree cover to shade water from increasing solar radiation.

The products

The online web-mapping tool allows resource managers to locate the best places to plant trees along stream and river banks within their jurisdictions to maximize shading over critical cold-water habitat throughout their range.

Learn more: http://applcc.org/conservation-design/gis-planning/gis-tools-resources/riparian-restoration-decision-support-tool

eastern-brook-trout-photo-credit-photo-credit-robert-s-michelson-of-photography-by-michelson-inc-brook-trout1

Credit: USFWS

Finding the sweet spots for brook trout restoration:  Chesapeake Bay Brook Trout Assessment and Decision Support Tool, funded by the North Atlantic LCC

The threat

Scientists estimate that brook trout have been extirpated from 60 percent of their historic habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, thanks to competition from invasive species and human development. With climate change posing increasing threats to habitat, it is more important than ever to preserve strongholds for these fish within this watershed.

The response

North Atlantic LCC-funded environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies has developed a model and accompanying assessment for the Chesapeake Bay watershed that predicts brook trout occupancy, evaluates habitat quality, quantifies how human use and climate change are likely to impact both, and identifies conservation priorities at multiple scales. The goal is to provide a tool for practitioners to identify ground-level restoration projects that will have a positive ripple effect for brook trout populations across the entire watershed.

The products

The data and modeling results from the assessment have been incorporated into a web-based decision support tool that enables users to:

  • Visualize and download data and model outputs
  • Establish conservation priorities based on user-defined ranking criteria
  • Calculate spatially-explicit predictions of brook trout response under various conservation scenarios
  • Assess conservation success within the context of future climate regimes.

Learn more: http://204.227.19.109/DS-USFWS-B/Index.html

Home is where the headwaters are:  Forecasting Future Changes to Aquatic Systems and Resilience of Brook Trout, funded by the North Atlantic LCC

The threat

Headwater streams are the primary habitat of eastern brook trout, and thus the best focus for conservation and restoration efforts to ensure a future for this species. But in order to prioritize which headwater streams to protect, practitioners need to know which streams can continue to offer the key conditions necessary for sustaining brook trout in the face of climate and land-use change.

The response

A team of scientists from US Geological Survey and the University of Massachusetts Amherst is developing a decision-support tool for prioritizing areas for restoration and protection efforts, and comparing alternative management strategies by predicting changes in stream temperature, flow, and brook trout occupancy based on how climate change and development are expected to impact air temperature, precipitation, and forest cover.

The products

A web-based Spatial Hydro-Ecological Decision System (SHEDs) allows practitioners to visualize predicted persistence of local brook trout populations under different climate change scenarios. The Integrated Catchment Explorer (ICE), a key component of the tool. which models current and future stream temperatures across the Northeast

Learn more: http://northatlanticlcc.org/projects/brook-trout-and-stream-temp-modeling/brook-trout-and-stream-temp-modeling