Background image of A canyon on the Elwha River.

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In austere times, where best to invest restoration money?

Decision support tools evaluate a multitude of variables and return solutions that stick to pre-defined goals.

If you had $10,000 to spend to restore streams, rivers and other aquatic areas in the Pacific Northwest, where would you spend it? Why? You might choose the stretch of river that hides your favorite fishing spot, a watershed that provides your drinking water, or the streams and waterfalls that make up your favorite hike. Where would your neighbor spend that money? Your boss?

Though many people support restoration, we each have our own priorities and interests when it comes to the causes and landscapes most important to us. Federal and state agencies, tribal governments, and conservation organizations are similarly driven by diverse missions and goals, but all work with limited budgets and resources to restore and conserve aquatic habitat. By identifying where priorities overlap, these groups can more effectively spend their resources.

Identifying priorities, however, quickly becomes difficult when you’re trying to balance many species’ needs and factor in the many threats habitats face, like climate change and pollution. That’s where decision support software comes in. Where the human brain can get bogged down in infinite possibilities, decision support tools evaluate a multitude of variables and return solutions that stick to pre-defined goals.

A screen shot of map-based decision making tool.
The aquatic priorities tool

Recently, we used Ecotrust’s newly released Madrona framework to help the Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service develop a decision support tool to prioritize watershed investments. The Regional Aquatic Prioritization and Mapping Toolkit allows users to identify watershed priorities that meet fish habitat needs, while also avoiding watersheds that are in poor condition or vulnerable to climate change and aquatic species invasion. The tool’s collaborative, interactive design allows users to apply their own parameters and share their outputs with each other. Flexible and easily updated, the tool also serves as a platform on which to build similar decision support tools for other clients in different geographic regions. And different agencies and organizations can collaborate with each other to identify overlapping priorities.

The work of freshwater restoration and habitat conservation can feel endless. Though millions of dollars are spent in our region, there is never enough funding to do the work that’s needed. When resources are spread haphazardly, returns are limited. With collaborative tools, we can support effective restoration efforts and leverage those successes for future restoration investment.