Science to Conservation Outcomes
BRIDGING THE “DATA TRANSFER” GAP In the field of conservation, it is not uncommon for researchers to end their grant reports and journal articles with an inspiring statement about the […]
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In the field of conservation, it is not uncommon for researchers to end their grant reports and journal articles with an inspiring statement about the value of the study for land managers in their efforts to protect biodiversity, sustainable populations, and healthy habitats into the future. The statement is likely true; however, if the report/article never lands on the desk or desktop of a land manager, the scientist is howling at the moon. Managers, including habitat permitting staff, often have limited time to search for and access current literature or recent data to inform their daily decisions.

To add to the challenge, spatial data (i.e. data contained in a geographic framework) can provide critical information to understand the watershed context of a parcel, wetland, or river channel, but are often contained in huge files and not something that can be emailed off to a colleague or decision maker. And, in many cases, not everyone has the appropriate software (Geographical Information Systems (GIS) or Image Processing packages) on their desktop computer to open spatial data files.

Increasingly, online mappers are solving this disconnect between people collecting spatial data and people who could make more informed decisions with these data.

A great example of an online mapper is the UAA Alaska Center for Conservation Science’s new AKTEMP – a water temperature database for viewing, uploading, downloading, and managing stream and lake temperature data across Alaska. For many years, Alaska data collectors – like Cook Inletkeeper – could share information about where, when, and how they were collecting water temperature data – their metadata – in AKOATS.

Now, for those willing to share their data publicly with other researchers, Tribes, land managers, and elected officials, AKTEMP actually houses water temperature data for easy access and is arranged on a map for easier searching.

Cook Inletkeeper’s long-term stream temperature monitoring site on Little Willow Creek is among the more than 350 monitoring stations that can be found on the interactive data viewer on AKTEMP.

AKTEMP is a big step forward and has taken many years and many collaborators to make it happen.  It is a great solution for one type of water quality data. Now, we need more and bigger solutions to truly bridge the gap between data producers and data users for impactful conservation outcomes.

In recent years, Cook Inletkeeper has been working with the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership to find solutions. The Partnership has prioritized and funded over 30 science-based projects that fill important data gaps towards the goal of fish habitat conservation, including projects coordinated by Cook Inletkeeper to increase our knowledge about thermal regimes in Mat-Su Basin streams as a strategy to integrate climate change vulnerability into prioritization efforts. With long-term datasets and the recent acquisition of thermal imagery in a number of key watersheds, Inletkeeper and the Partnership have the opportunity to apply these data towards conservation actions.

Starting in 2021, the Partnership has sponsored a “Science to Conservation Outcomes” initiative to explore what existing and potential pathways are available to secure long-term, conservation status that ensures persistent groundwater connectivity to warming stream channels. At the 2023 science symposium this November, Inletkeeper and the Partnership explored data accessibility and identified current data transfer tools and workflow challenges. In the months ahead, this conversation and a search for broader solutions will continue.

Over the years, Inletkeeper has been able to lead and coordinate – and listen and learn – as we work to bring local science into land conservation outcomes. Much of this effort involves specific project-funding from government or private foundation grants. But the most precious time between projects – when the thinking and strategizing happens – relies on our supporters. You move the needle by allowing our staff the time to build the relationships, connect the dots, and bridge the gaps.

Our work continues; we hope your support will too!

Thank you for reading. We are able to do this work because of member support from concerned friends like you. Please donate today to protect Cook Inlet for our future generations.