Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners announce science-based tool to help prioritize and target fish habitat conservation

March 1, 2016


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Eastern brook trout Credit: USFWS

March 1, 2016 -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) today announce the availability of an online tool that enables users to target and prioritize fish habitat conservation in the face of climate and land use change.

Developed by environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies, West Virginia University, and Critigen, with support from the USFWS, North Atlantic LCC and other partners, the Fish Habitat Decision Support Tool enables users to establish and rank conservation priorities, predict how species like brook trout will fare under various management scenarios and evaluate long-term conservation benefits.

The tool can help in targeting aquatic resources from the Midwest to the Atlantic coast -- nearly half of the continental United States. In the Northeast, it has been developed for brook trout in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, river herring and other anadromous fish in Atlantic coastal rivers, and winter flounder in Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay.

“We have always used the best available science to target where we work, but this tool puts all of the information we need right at our fingertips so we can make decisions quickly and strategically,” said Sandra Davis, fisheries biologist with the USFWS Chesapeake Bay Field Office.

The North Atlantic LCC, a forum for the USFWS and other regional partners to identify conservation priorities and develop the right science to address them, provided funding and guidance for fish habitat assessments along with the Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership, Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture and The Nature Conservancy.

The tool features a built-in “futuring” module that allows practitioners to create scenarios based on predictions about changes to key factors -- such as development and climate change -- that will help them determine whether a species will persist at a site as conditions change. It also includes a module that lets users mix, match, and rank all of the other factors that might inform decisions to invest money on the ground, such as locations of other restoration projects that are underway, proximity to populations centers and information about upstream influences, such as acid mines.

“This technology helps us pick projects that will have the greatest long-term impact by targeting areas for dam removal or restoration projects that will increase connectivity between separate populations,” Davis said. “We’re also hoping that if different partners and agencies are all using the same tool, we will be able to align priorities in order to leverage both funding and expertise.”

Fritz Boettner, a principal scientist for Downstream Strategies, said a range of partners are likely to use the tool because it incorporates data that has already been vetted by practitioners in the field and was developed using their input. He said Downstream Strategies and WVU worked closely with FWS and other partners to make sure the tool would do be able to do what they needed.

“Over and over again we’ve heard from conservation planners about how hard it is to pin down project sites where you really get the most bang for your buck,” Boettner said. “The plan we outlined with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service was to build something—not just tools, but also methods—that can assist planners in getting over that last hump from great information and local knowledge into effective on-the-ground work.”

To access and use the Fish Habitat Decision Support Tool, visit

To view and participate in a webinar overview of the tool scheduled Wednesday, March 9 from 1-2 p.m. EDT, visit:

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