Climate change is rapidly altering stream and river environments across the western U.S. and may threaten the long-term persistence of populations of iconic cold-water species like salmon and trout. Better information was needed to describe these threats and facilitate site-specific conservation planning and adaptation. Large amounts of biological and temperature monitoring data had been collected in previous decades by many agencies but had not been organized to create comprehensive interagency databases. New digital technologies provided an opportunity for small database teams to aggregate and organize those datasets so they could be used efficiently by the Forest Service and dozens of partner agencies.
Using a combination of websites, blogs, email chat, and file sharing software, a small Forest Service database team working on the NorWeST (Northwest Stream Temperature) project solicited copies of stream temperature data from hundreds of biologists and hydrologists working for more than 100 natural resource agencies. The data were organized into a database that was used to develop high-resolution stream temperature scenarios and the information is distributed in user-friendly digital formats through a NorWeST website. The temperature scenarios were subsequently used in the Climate Shield project with large biological monitoring datasets to develop models that accurately predict where native cold-water species are most likely to occur later this century as climate change progresses. The models revealed that many populations are likely to persist in headwater streams on National Forest lands that will act as climate refugia. Maps showing the locations of climate refuge streams for different species are distributed through the Climate Shield website and are widely used by many agencies and National Forests for conservation planning and management. Key findings include: Precise models can be developed inexpensively using existing data to identify climate refugia; headwater streams on National Forests provide extensive climate refugia for many cold-water species; and, development and use of interagency databases facilitates better conservation and collaboration.