The Department of Defense (DoD) is facing increasing pressures to integrate training and conservation needs. The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act outcomes resulted in increased training intensity on many installations, creating a need to devote more land to ranges and developed cantonments and thus reducing the available acres on which to recover endangered and threatened species. At the same time, development increasingly encroaches on the borders of many installations, making the installations increasingly vital to conservation efforts and reducing opportunities to include habitat off base in those efforts. As habitat is lost and fragmented, it becomes increasingly important to identify the most important habitat parcels to protect both on and off the installation. This ability is necessary to locate and design new ranges to minimize impacts on threatened and endangered species and to identify habitat parcels for protection and purchase off base that maximize the conservation gain per scarce resource dollars.

The objective of this project was to develop a user-friendly GIS-based spatially-explicit decision support system (DSS) from red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis; RCW) habitat and population information that will help DoD personnel identify and prioritize habitat parcels on and in the vicinity of DoD installations in the southeastern United States.

Technical Approach

The design and implementation of the DSS was accomplished by linking a previously existing spatially-explicit, individual-based, RCW population model to the landscape through habitat suitability requirements, in a user-friendly form that operates as a toolbar within Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) ArcMap.

The spatial libraries and inherent capabilities of an existing GIS software package developed by ESRI called ArcGIS was applied. This software package allowed for significant reduction in development time and increase in the capabilities of the DSS. Next, the latest RCW research was combined into the underlying population model, specifically new information about movement of female RCWs including habitat matrix effects. Finally an interface was developed that was user-friendly and easier to learn than the original model.


The project team successfully developed a user-friendly GIS-based spatially-explicit decision support system that will help DoD personnel identify and prioritize habitat parcels on and in the vicinity of DoD installations according to their value for RCW conservation. Validation exercises indicate that the DSS simulates population dynamics well, but is conservative in its habitat requirements, that is, RCW groups can sometimes persist on fewer acres of suitable habitat than required in the model. Overall the model performs well, and user feedback and results from applications to current RCW conservation issues on two installations demonstrated that the DSS can accomplish what it was designed to do, is easy to use, and is attractive to potential users.



This project addresses DoD’s needs by linking federally listed species habitat requirements and population parameters at the landscape level, specifically for the purpose of identifying and ranking key habitat parcels on and in the vicinity of target installations. The DSS is applicable to problems involving land use change, habitat fragmentation, habitat restoration, evaluation of management options, range design, and land acquisition. As such, on installations harboring RCWs it can be applied to help resolve the impact of habitat fragmentation on and in the vicinity of DoD installations on endangered and threatened species. The DSS allows users to project the impact of any change in land use or management within their existing land base, or additions to or subtractions from that land base, on their RCW populations. Specifically users will be able to assess the effects of landscape fragmentation, habitat loss, habitat restoration, recruitment cluster construction, and the absence of management actions on current and future RCW populations. In addition, the DSS is specifically designed to enable evaluations of the importance of individual habitat parcels to an RCW population and to track dispersal of birds between user-defined groups of territories. The DSS will enable managers to make more accurate projections about the dynamics of their RCW populations and of their management actions on those populations. The DSS can inform critical management decisions with regard to listed species habitat and population management while complementing related DoD issues such as training and readiness planning and compatible use buffers surrounding installations.