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Climate shield cold-water refuge streams for native trout

March, 2015

The Climate Shield website hosts geospatial data and related information on specific locations of cold-water refuge streams for native trout.
The Climate Shield website hosts geospatial data and related information on specific locations of cold-water refuge streams for native trout.

Populations of many cold-water aquatic species are likely to decline this century with climate change, but declines will vary spatially. Some populations will be able to persist even under extreme climate change scenarios. Especially cold habitats could provide important refugia from both future environmental change and invasions by non-native species that prefer warmer waters.

The Climate Shield website hosts geospatial data and related information on specific locations of cold-water refuge streams for native cutthroat trout and bull trout across the northwestern United States. Forecasts about the locations of refugia could enable the protection of key watersheds, be used to rally support among multiple stakeholders, and provide a foundation for planning climate-smart conservation networks that improve the odds of preserving native trout populations through the 21st century.

Climate Shield was inspired by the landscapes of the Rocky Mountains and people everywhere that are working to preserve native trout. The Northern Rockies Adaptation Partnership provided a valuable forum that accelerated this work. The Great Northern and North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperatives generously funded the NorWeST project, which serves as the foundation for Climate Shield.


While a major goal of this project is to provide climate vulnerability and native trout refuge information to land managers and policymakers, another goal is to provide open access to the information through a common digital database and project website so that it can be accessed and used by anyone concerned about native trout in the region. The techniques and technology used to build Climate Shield are broadly applicable to other species and geographic areas and have shifted the paradigm of how natural resources research can be conducted.

“The high-resolution digital information from the study is the perfect complement to local knowledge, because it provides strategic maps that allow managers to put each stream in a broader context and make ‘apples to apples’ comparisons across landscapes in the northwest,” said RMRS investigator Dan Isaak.


Isaak, Daniel J. ; Young, Michael K. ; Luce, Charles H. ; Hostetler, Steven W. ; Wenger, Seth J. ; Peterson, Erin E. ; Ver Hoef, Jay M. ; Groce, Matthew C. ; Horan, Dona ; Nagel, David E. , 2016
Isaak, Daniel J. ; Young, Michael K. ; Nagel, David E. ; Horan, Dona ; Groce, Matthew C. , 2015


Presentation Describing Climate Shield: The Cold-Water Climate Shield - Delineating Refugia for Preserving Native Trout

Isaak, D., M. Young, C. Luce, S. Hostetler, S. Wenger, E. Peterson, J. Ver Hoef, M. Groce, D. Horan, and D. Nagel. 2016. Slow climate velocities of mountain streams portend their role as refugia for cold-water biodiversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:10.1073/pnas.1522429113.

Press Release: Mountain Streams Offer Climate Refuge

Isaak, D., M. Young, D. Nagel, D. Horan, and M. Groce. 2015. The cold-water climate shield: Delineating refugia for preserving salmonid fishes through the 21st Century. Global Change Biology. 21:2540-2553.

Associated Press - The Big Story - Feds eye refuges for cold-water species in 5 states

High Country News - How to shelter mountain streams in a changing world

Presentation on newly funded project: The rapid, range-wide inventory of bull trout: a crowd-sourced, eDNA-based approach with application to many aquatic species

National Priority Research Areas: 
Climate Change; Watershed Management and Restoration
RMRS Science Program Areas: 
Air, Water and Aquatic Environments
Northern Region (R1); Idaho; Nez Perce National Forest; St. Joe National Forest; Montana; Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest; Rocky Mountain Region (R2); Wyoming; Bighorn National Forest; Bridger-Teton National Forest; Glacier Lakes Ecosystem Experiments Site; Medicine Bow National Forest; Routt National Forest; Shoshone National Forest; Intermountain Region (R4); Idaho; Boise Basin Experimental Forest; Boise National Forest; Caribou-Targhee National Forest; Curlew National Grassland; Payette National Forest; Priest River Experimental Forest; Salmon-Challis National Forest; Sawtooth National Forest; Nevada; Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest; Pacific Northwest Region (R6); Oregon; Cascade Head Experimental Forest; Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area; Crooked River National Grassland; Deschutes National Forest; Fremont-Winema National Forest; H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest; Malheur National Forest; Mount Hood National Forest; Ochoco National Forest; Rogue River-Siskyou National Forest; Siuslaw National Forest; South Umpqua Experimental Forest; Starkey Experimental Forest and Range; Umatilla National Forest; Umpqua National Forest; Wallowa-Whitman National Forest; Willamette National Forest; Washington; Colville National Forest; Entiat Experimental Forest; Gifford Pinchot National Forest; Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest; Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument; Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest; Olympic Experimental State Forest; Olympic National Forest; Wind River Experimental Forest
Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Research Staff: