In Cascadia, maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem integrity into the future with changing conditions and a growing human population – indeed a region that is booming – is a major challenge of our time.

Every day we are making decisions that will affect our region—and our options—well into the future. From how we choose to grow as our population expands to how we ensure our infrastructure is sustainable to changing conditions and located in consideration of the protection and restoration of natural resources – our decisions matter. From what crops we plant to how we manage on forests – our decisions must respond to the needs of today and tomorrow. From land use planning at the county scale to resource management plans for several million acres of national forest – our decisions must consider not only the local context but how it fits within a regional context as well. Each of these individual decisions adds up to landscape scale change.

To enable informed decisions in real time that are coordinated to ensure a resilient region into the future, we need not only a shared strategy across land and management boundaries, but also a tool to support our planning and monitoring. We are partnering with the team at Google Earth Outreach to develop a dynamic, automated online tool to allow partners to monitor trends over time, project future trends and risks, inform spatial impacts of local projects to the region scale, and coordinate efforts across boundaries. The tool is built to support the presentation of spatial information for identified regionally valued species, ecosystems, and/or ecosystem processes.

The tool can synthesize user-defined inputs into a single, continuous spatial priority model for Cascadia that will be hosted in an online viewer based on Google Earth Engine. This tool is dynamic, allowing it to be continuously and automatically updated as new satellite imagery and other data sources become available. The tool will provide a regional-scale perspective to local decision making, not replacing the value of more localized information but complementing it.

A prototype of the tool will be available in fall 2020, and it will develop to serve needs as they are identified in the overall strategy.

Our approach is to co-produce the tool alongside the intended users.  It will help inform adaptation actions and identify spatial priority areas to inform land and resources management, while it will also enable monitoring and evaluation to assess our progress towards a resilient Cascadia.

Building the tool

Increasing access to global satellite imagery, cloud computing, and communications has created the potential for spatial conservation planning to be done in real-time at a regional scale to build upon and complement the landscape planning and analyses already completed.

Imagine being able to login to a unique Google Earth user interface to see in real-time the highest priority intact habitats today and expected to be resilient to climate change for Cascadia, while signing up for alerts to be contacted as negative or positive changes to those areas occur. Imagine in that same tool exploring how the geography that you are working in sits within a regional network of wildlife linkages to maintain the ability for wildlife to move in response to changing conditions. And, imagine an annual regional meeting of land and resource managers and conservationists identifying trends of progress and losses towards a more resilient Cascadia utilizing a spatial tool to quantify broad shared metrics in addition to other factors. We propose to make these options a reality for practitioners in Cascadia with this new decision-support tool.

To ensure that we map not only the resources within Cascadia but also consider the important habitats that a resilient Cascadia must remain connected to, we needed to expand our the analysis area of our tool beyond our traditional reach.

This image displays the geographic extent of the spatial tool, which extends beyond the traditional boundary of the Cascadia Partner Forum to allow our tool to consider and display important patterns at a larger scale.

As establishing our analysis area – our first task, to develop a seamless land use map that crosses the international boundary, was a response to a direct request from stakeholders.  In 2020, we area also building modules in the tool for habitat connectivity, projected biome range shifts, and wolverine habitat.

The tool will take the dynamic modules we build, and present them spatially – individually or synthesized together.  It will be continuously and automatically updated, while tool users can be alerted to changes in their defined areas of interest by an automatic alert system.  Finally, we can use tool tell the story of change over time in our region as well as the people and places that make Cascadia so special.

The tool will allow us, independently and as a network, to monitor habitat and connectivity trends in our region over time, assess current conditions relative to our goals, project future trends, and identify priority locations in the landscape for actions to improve resilience.

A vital piece of information in our tool development is user input, which can help guide our development and presentation.

Our goals for the coming year are:

  • Finalize and publicly launch a user interface of the initial tool components including dynamic land use, habitat connectivity, and projected biome range shifts.
  • Identify geographic priority areas for the components above to inform management and conservation.
  • Complete incorporation of a wolverine habitat and connectivity module, informing the tools ability to address future priority species modules.
  • Integrate the tool with priority issues as identified in the Cascadia Climate Adaptation Strategy to support resilience planning.
  • Work with several end-users to test the usability and function of the tool
    The team behind the tool

    This tool is being developed by a subgroup within the larger Cascadia Climate Adaptation Strategy that is led by Tanya Birth (Google), Kathleen Gobush (Conservation Northwest), Andrew Shirk (University of Washington – Climate Impacts Group), Greg Kehm (Greg Kehm Associates), Meade Krosby (University of Washington), David Thau (World Wildlife Fund), Carly Vynne (Osprey Insights), and Jen Watkins (Washington Department of Natural Resources).

    We appreciate the time and expertise of an advisory team of experts is providing input, guidance, and review of our tool as it is developed.  This team includes Karl Burkart (One Earth), Carlos Carroll (Klamath Center for Conservation Research), Sam Cushman (US Forest Service), Bill Gaines (Washington Conservation Science Institute), Kim Hall (The Nature Conservancy), Josh Lawler (University of Washington), Don Morgan, Michael Schindel (The Nature Conservancy), Peter Singleton (US Forest Service – PNW Research Lab), Andy Teucher (Ministry of Environment), Dave Theobald (Conservation Science Partners), and Jessica Walz Schafer (Wildlands Network).

    The Partner Forum continues to seek funding to build out this tool, but work is underway due to the generous in-kind and financial support of the following: Charlotte Martin Foundation, Conservation Northwest, Google, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (via Sustainable Markets Foundation), North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative, NW Climate Adaptation Science Center, One Earth, Seattle City Light, and Wilburforce Foundation.