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Maine leads effort to streamline aquatic conservation with regional database

Shared database gives partners in Maine a central repository for stream temperature data and new opportunities to use that information to identify management and restoration priorities.
Maine leads effort to streamline aquatic conservation with regional database

FWS Biologist Serena Doose coordinated the effort to populate a new database that can help partners in Maine identify opportunities to benefit species like Eastern brook trout.

Whether you work in aquatic conservation or not, the idea of coordinating a central clearinghouse for stream temperature data in Maine -- a state where multitudes of different organizations are collecting data concurrently within more than 44,000 miles of rivers and streams -- probably seems like a tall order.  

In 2014, Biologist Serena Doose, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Gulf of Maine Coastal Program (GOMP), was asked to make that idea a reality as the new coordinator of the freshly established Stream Temperature Working Group. 

The year before, GOMP’s Project Leader Jed Wright had been approached by a team of researchers led by Ben Letcher of the U.S. Geological Survey to help pilot the new Spatial Hydro Decision Support System (SHEDS), a collection of web-based data visualization and decision support tools which used regional stream temperature data to better understand stream ecosystems, funded by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative. But before they could pilot it, they needed to populate the stream temperature database, upon which all the tools and models would be based.

GOMP decided to lead the effort to compile Maine’s stream temperature data for the SHEDS team, hoping to enhance the application of the regional stream temperature models in Maine for future restoration activities. The first challenge was that they knew there was a lot of data out there, but they didn’t know where it was being collected, or by whom.

They weren’t alone. “There are a lot of organizations keyed into streams and stream temperature in Maine, and many people collecting this data in different places all the time across the state,” Doose said. Beyond the challenge of untangling that web, she saw the potential benefits of doing so.

“All of that data would be of greater value if it was collected and shared,” she said. “Everyone is collecting stream temperature data, but it’s not a lot of people's’ primary objective.” With a system like SHEDS, the data could be shared by everyone.

In 2015, Doose began contacting people around the state to solicit participation in the Stream Temperature Working Group. They held meetings, led pre-field season protocol workshops to build in-state capacity, and distributed 80 stream temperature data loggers to organizations around the state, offsetting equipment startup costs. Additionally, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife procured a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund Grant for the group to purchase more equipment and further the effort. Jeff Walker, part of the SHEDS team and primary database designer, worked with the group to ensure all parties were comfortable with the user interface and upload process. By the end of the year, they had deployed more than 220 stream temperature sensors in every watershed in the state, and collected historical temperature data from more than 1200 locations.

In 2016, the network expanded to include 3200 locations with 35 participating organizations.

Today, Doose said, “Most of the key organizations in the state who are collecting stream temperature data are now funneling it into the SHEDS database.” That includes the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, universities, Native American tribes, watershed organizations, NGOs and of course, the GoMP. “This is the first time that Maine has ever had a lasting, central repository for stream temperature data, as well as ways to use that data for management and restoration purposes.”

More than just getting all of the information in one place, it was about getting everyone working on stream temperature in Maine on the same page. “That allows us to establish an environmental baseline moving forward. We know what we have, we know where the gaps are, and we know what we need to fill in.”

That baseline is already supporting the work of the GoMP by reinforcing efforts to protect and restore cold-water habitat for at-risk species like Eastern brook trout and Atlantic salmon. “With the data we’ve collected, we can now use the watershed resiliency model and decision support tools on SHEDS to focus on certain watersheds that are more susceptible to thermal influence and better prioritize our restoration actions.”

Although Doose recently left Maine for a new position with the Service’s Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office in California, she said the new coordinator at GOMP Kirstin Underwood is picking up where she left off, and will continue facilitating the Stream Temperature Working Group, focusing on a new tool from the SHEDS system: The Interactive Catchment Explorer (ICE), which allows users to visualize thermal metrics and predicted persistence of local brook trout populations under different climate change scenarios.

“We want SHEDS to become a tool in everyone’s restoration and fisheries management toolboxes,” said Doose.

Visit the Spatial Hydro Decision Support System product page to learn more. 

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