University of Massachusetts Amherst

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System

Overview – Applications

Ecological processes operate at various scales ranging from small temporary woodland pools that provide breeding habitat for salamanders to vast landscapes of mixed forests, fields and wetlands required by moose, bobcats, and black bears. CAPS is designed to conduct assessments at different scales (town, watershed, state, ecoregion) and integrate them into a strategic blueprint for conservation. These analyses and the integration of results from different scales provide the best opportunity for the development of “nested” conservation strategies at the local, state, and regional scales.

Given the limited resources available for conservation and ecological restoration it is essential that those resources be targeted in ways that provide the greatest benefit. Likewise, an effective strategy for maintaining habitat quality and biodiversity will direct new development to areas where the impacts on ecological integrity will be lowest. CAPS provides a systems for setting conservation priorities and evaluating various options for land development and ecological restoration.

The index of ecological integrity can be used alone or in combination with other approaches to identify and prioritize land for conservation. The index can be used, for example, to identify the top 10% or 30% of the land likely to provide the greatest ecological value over time and providing an effective and credible basis for strategic land conservation. It is important to note that the ecological integrity scores for land depend on the geographic extent of the analysis area. This is because the rescaling of the metrics is done to identify the best of the available lands, yet the “available lands” varies with geographic location and extent. Thus, the best example of a particular community within a certain geographic extent might be a relatively poor example when assessed over a much larger extent.

Because CAPS provides a quantitative assessment of ecological integrity it can be used for comparing various scenarios. In essence, scenario analysis involves running CAPS separately for each scenario, and comparing results to determine the loss (or gain) in IEI or specific metric units. This scenario testing capability can be used to evaluate and compare the impacts of development projects on habitat conditions as well as the potential benefits of habitat management or environmental restoration. Examples of applications of this scenario testing capacity include:

  • Alternatives analysis for development projects
  • Mitigation planning and regulatory review
  • Evaluating ecological restoration opportunities, such as
    • Wetlands restoration
    • Abatement of tidal restrictions
    • Dam removal
    • Retrofit or replacement of culverts
    • Use of wildlife passage structures on roads & highways
  • Establishing policies (e.g. water quality standards & criteria) for protection and restoration of biological condition
Ieidelta Crossings
Results of culvert/bridge replacement scenario analyses for a portion of Massachusetts. The darker the circles the greater the improvement in aquatic connectedness.