Northern Rockies Decision Support Tool


The Northern Rockies landscape has faced a variety of threats linked to ownership changes and population growth in the late 20th century and early 21st century. Timber companies are in an active period of buying and selling land and consolidating ownership, and the region’s growing popularity has incentivized the conversion of forestland to residential and commercial development.

Fragmentation and development of Northern Rockies forestland brings increased roads, impervious surfaces, soil disturbance, pollutants, sedimentation, and erosion. These changes have deleterious impacts on the region’s watersheds, including the degradation of fish and wildlife habitat and wildlife migration corridors, and diminished water quality. Additionally, forest fragmentation reduces public recreation access and opportunities, sustainable timber management and timber-related jobs in small rural communities, and resiliency and adaptation to climate change, and increases community costs for law enforcement, water treatment, wildfire management, and utility services.

These changes, though concerning, also present a unique opportunity for landscape-scale conservation that has the potential to catalyze the protection of thousands of acres of forested watershed.

The Trust for Public Land has created the Northern Rockies GIS Decision Support Tool, an interactive web-based mapping application, to help staff identify, characterize, and assess western Montana’s, Idaho’s, and northern Wyoming’s greatest conservation and restoration needs from a landscape level down to the parcel scale.

Conservation criteria includes: habitat (threatened and endangered species, migration corridors); watersheds (aquatic habitat, drinking water sources, wetlands); recreation (access and proximity to public lands, trails, proximity to population centers); and, climate (carbon sequestration, climate resilience). Staff can also select data layers based on the relevance to the federal funding programs that support the successful completion of our projects.

The application allows users to review basic information about size, ownership, land use types, and selection criteria in a geographic context clipped to project boundaries; generate detailed parcel priority reports; and, create and print maps through layer control. Specialized query capabilities allow users to locate parcels that meet one or more of the priority characteristics. For example, the tool can answer questions such as:

  • Where are the parcels that provide habitat to the most T&E species?
  • Where are the parcels that are most important to drinking water supplies?
  • Where are the parcels that are most threatened by development?
  • Where do the above three criteria (or any number of criteria) exist on the same parcels?

This tool helps us: 1) consolidate information on-line, in one place, making it easier to access information and make decisions more efficiently; 2) identify and prioritize the most important timber lands; 3) propose strong conservation projects for public funding consideration; 4) instill confidence in our landowners in our ability to complete conservation transactions and do more of them; 5) attract additional sources of private funding; 6) share information and strengthen relationships with agency and non –profit partners; and, 7) identify future restoration opportunities on the timber lands we protect. Most importantly, the Northern Rockies Decision Support Tool focuses our limited capacity and land protection funding, thus enhancing our extensive experience in forestry conservation in the Northern Rockies.