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Spatial CAP Resources

This site is designed to be an informal gathering place for best practices, tools, and examples of Conservation Action Plans (CAPs) with spatial (mapped) components.

Please note that all information here is an evolving draft, and should NOT be interpreted as a finished "how-to" guide.

Again, this site is a work in progress; please send your comments, questions, tools, examples & maps to Jon Fisher: Jon Fisher


How Can CAPs be Spatially Explicit?

We are still trying to define best practices for the use of spatial information for CAPs, but here is some food for thought:

 "A Spatial Conservation Action Plan involves the use of spatial GIS data to represent project boundaries, targets, threats and/or strategies.  Use of these data can range from simple overlays of data sets to running queries and other GIS analyses to help identify the spatial relationships between targets and threats and guide the identification of place-based strategies."

  • All conservation projects exist within a spatial context, including natural (topography, soils, vegetation, and freshwater or marine features), social and manmade features (land ownerships, roads, structures, and political boundaries.)
  • In addition to spatial context, some conservation projects (see examples) have developed a spatial boundary that represents the project area, as well as specific spatial data for different components of the CAP - i.e. a spatial representation of the conservation targets, threats, and/or management strategies.  It is this project-specific spatial data which can be tied to a CAP that distinguishes a spatial CAP from a non-spatial conservation project.

    Some key elements of a spatial CAP can include, but are not limited to:

    • A project boundary.  This boundary defines the conceptual or physical extent of the conservation project. Project boundaries can range from a local preserve boundary (defined by ownership) to a geographical boundary (such as a statewide, ecoregional or regional project), to a conceptual "planning area" that is unrelated to any existing geographical boundaries, but in all cases it should represent the geographic extent of the CAP.  Many projects often include different geographically defined management zones that permit varying levels of visitation access or natural resource uses (e.g., a “core protected zone” with no natural resource extraction and a “buffer zone” with limited natural resource uses).  Currently project boundaries are supported in ConPro.
    • Mapped targets.  Examples include points on a map representing individual plant or animal occurrences or polygons representing vegetation communities, habitats or ecosystems.  Click here for an example of a viability map for targets.
    • Mapped threats. Examples of current threats include point locations for pollution inputs, lines representing roads, or polygons representing areas affected by farming practices or human disturbance. Present and future threats can be modeled or inferred from other related, existing datasets (e.g. growth of human populations, sea level rise, point sources for invasives).  Click here for an example of a threat map.
    • Mapped strategies. Examples include point locations for tree plantings, polygons representing weed control areas, or groups of polygons representing landowner outreach efforts within the planning area.
    • Background data. In order to better understand the context of the key conservation elements, background data such as satellite imagery, landcover, topography, transportation, hydrology, political boundaries, and human use can be invaluable.
    • Models or analysis.  Simply providing maps to help visualize the data in a spatial context is critical, but in some cases more advanced analysis or modeling may also be extremely useful.  Examples include creating a composite threat layer (based on a number of contributing data layers), prioritizing sites to take action in, analyzing imagery to identify areas of interest like ecosystem types, fires, forest loss, etc.
    • Map products.  Maps can be an excellent way to convey information to partners, government officials, local stakeholders, and the public.  Maps can be a simple image (conveyed digitally or on paper), or interactive free products like a geoPDF (a pdf with the ability to turn map layers on and off, free to generate with ArcMap 9.3), google earth documents, ArcGIS explorer documents, ArcReader documents, or web maps.

    12 Methods for Incorporating Spatial Information into your CAP:

    These are just ideas and suggestions, and do NOT constitute a standard or set of requirements.

    1. Determine why you are creating spatial data or maps. Remember that maps are a means rather than an end.  It is important to consider content first before getting caught up with form and cartography.  Also, not all spatial data was developed with a CAP in mind, and care should be taken when using spatial data that already exists to make sure it's a good match.

    2. Engage a GIS analyst early in the process.  This will save time later on and improve the quality of spatial products you can produce.  Ideally, a high-level GIS analyst would be a core member of every CAP team, with corresponding objectives in their annual work plans. However, GIS capacity is often limited, so take advantage of other opportunities to get GIS support, including engaging staff from partner organizations, interns, or volunteers.  Training CAP staff to a basic level of "GIS literacy" is another possibility when an expert is not available, and there are free and discounted resources centrally available to do so.

    3. Hold a pre-meeting between the GIS analyst and the core conservation planning team to evaluate existing spatial data. Decide whether existing data is sufficient and appropriate for the conservation planning process or whether additional data will be required.  If additional data will be required, decide as a group where it should come from, and whether partner organizations may have the data or it will need to be created from scratch. Data can be gathered using field surveys, digitization, or drawing on maps with expert input, for example.

    4. Review the data standards for your region. Some regions have, or are developing, standards for ownership, fine and coarse filter targets and threats. Those standards, coupled with the spatial conservation data nodes, finally give us a mechanism to consistently update and maintain our data over time. We encourage all CAP planners to use some of their time and resources to review the data from your area, and the data managers of the team work to get the output of those reviews incorporated into the enterprise data.  Note that some regions are taking a different approach by setting only very general/loose standards, and working together on quality control once work is done to provide more flexibility to the field.

    5. Determine the boundary for your CAP, and digitize it (by drawing it if it's an abstract/imprecise boundary, or copying another polygon if it's based on an existing boundary).  We are considering adding the ability to do this via the ConPro web interface, but don't have a date for implementation.  This boundary will then be visible to anyone in TNC, and to partners if the project has been flagged as shareable outside of TNC.

    6. Collect relevant spatial data (targets, threats, management status, etc.), and map relevant data you have which are still in a tabular format (such as field data with GPS locations in an Excel spreadsheet).  Assess how current your data is, and whether or not it is still relevant, and whether partners may have updates available (as in some cases they spend more time in the field).

    7. Get verbal or written input from experts and local stakeholders and convert (digitize) it into GIS shapefiles.  Be sure to indicate when developing data from verbal input why each polygon was chosen for inclusion (e.g. when mapping species distribution, to indicate whether a species has been verified as occurring in the area, or if it is just predicted based on habitat).

    8. Use tools like geoCAP (described below) to examine the spatial relationships between targets and threats to identify where specific targets are being affected by specific threats.  Also consider what other types of data you may want that could be produced by analysis (e.g. combining individual targets or threats into a composite targets or threats layer, or combining threats with viability to produce an urgency layer, or developing an "opportunity" layer, etc.)

    9. Share your spatial data via ConPro or the conservation projects layers in SDE

    10. Utilize ecoregional data to represent targets and/or threats; examine if the regional data is applicable at your specific CAP scale and consider augmenting these with finer scale information.

    11. Review and update existing spatial data based on work done for the CAP.  For example, during the CAP process, new information about target or habitat locations may be unearthed through expert input or field surveys. Capture that information and feed it back into existing spatial datasets, such as the Natural Heritage program.

    12. Communicate your results. Once your data has been developed, return to thinking about how you can communicate with it, what further analysis is needed, and what maps need to be created.  To avoid making maps that are too complicated and "busy" or maps that are too simplistic and not useful, consider making multiple maps for different audiences (matching each map with the need) and/or interactive maps (using ArcReader, web maps, google earth, geopdf using Acrobat, etc.).  Also think about what you're trying to communicate; for example if you want to highlight the importance of severe threats which don't cover a large area you will need to somehow highlight these areas (thick border, brighter color, accompanying text or label, explanation,etc.)so that they don't look less important than larger areas with lower threat ranking.


    Tools Supporting Spatial CAP Development: 

    ArcGIS Desktop -  TNC has a number of GIS licenses, including several extensions.  ArcGIS is generally the heart of any spatial CAP work, although other alternatives exist for more lightweight work.  Find out more about how to obtain the software at http://home.tnc/gis

    ArcPad / ArcGIS Mobile - These are both applications that can be deployed on a PDA or tablet PC.  Both allow users in the field view and edit data, and sync their edits up with a master version of the data on a desktop computer or GIS server.  The primary difference is that ArcPad is easier to set up, but harder to use (aimed at users familiar with GIS), while ArcGIS Mobile requires more programming to deploy but can be very simple and user-friendly.  Both are also capable of connecting to a GPS, so a user can capture their precise location and add information about what's there.

    Conservation Implementation Measures Tool for Colorado - The Conservation Implementation Measures Tool (CIMT) will provide TNC staff with user friendly  interactive automated tools that will enable them to implement their Conservation Action Plan (CAP) by prioritizing their conservation efforts.  The Nature Conservancy has the data and can create GIS technology components required to implement a CIMT.  The CIMT will maximize the value of this data and technology by providing conservation managers with direct access and query functions that will allow them to visualize the spatial aspects of CAP implementations. (Or read a six-page summary of CIMT.)

    ConPro Spatial - ConPro is The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Project Database, with data from almost 1000 projects, including over 5,600 targets, 8,800 threats, and 6,900 strategies.  ConPro now includes a searchable web map that allows users to see the boundaries of conservation projects.  ConPro can be accessed at, and the spatial viewer is at Anyone with edit access to a project in ConPro can now upload a shapefile for the project boundary.  Contact jon_fisher at tnc dot org for more information.

    geoCAP - A geospatial module aimed at beginner to intermediate GIS users to accompany the CAP workbook being developed by the Global Marine Team along with the Meso-American Caribbean Region and the Worldwide Office of The Nature Conservancy.  This module helps you analyze and combine existing spatial data to generate new spatial data that corresponds to elements of a CAP.  Currently, strategies identified in the CAP workbook apply to the entire CAP boundary but not to places within it. This tool will help identify specific locations within the CAP where place-based, threat abatement strategies (i.e. removal of bulkheads to restore coastline) can be implemented.  Contact Zach Ferdaña (zferdana (at) tnc (dot) org) for more information or obtain a copy of the tool (which is currently in beta). Or read a 2-page geoCAP summary, but note that it is outdated and the tool is not yet officially released.

    Miradi - Miradi is a new open-source desktop software program for adaptive management / conservation planning being developed by the Conservation Measures Partnership (which includes TNC, WWF, IUCN, and many other organizations.)  Like the CAP Workbook, Miradi provides a way to document and capture all the information associated with a conservation plan (targets, threats, strategies, viability, threats, and so on.)  Unlike the CAP workbook, Miradi is built around a series of diagrams (called "conceptual models" or situation diagrams) and is designed to be easy to learn.  In the future, Miradi will include spatial capabilities, such as the ability to link spatial and non-spatial information from a single conservation plan.  It will be designed for users who do not necessarily have GIS or fast internet on their computers but nonetheless want to manage spatial data.  Work has not yet begun on actually programming these features, so in the short term the only way to link spatial data to Miradi data will be through ConPro.  For more information about Miradi go to  You can also download a large (18 MB) powerpoint presentation about proposed Miradi spatial features

    Vegetation Data & Ecological Models from LANDFIRE - Don’t be put off by the name - it is not just about fire! The LANDFIRE project provides wall-to-wall vegetation related spatial data and ecological models for the entire United States. LANDFIRE products include over 1,000 vegetation dynamics models and over 20 digital maps of existing vegetation, pre-European-American settlement vegetation (called Biophysical Settings), vegetation height and cover, estimated historical fire regimes and current departure from estimated historical vegetation conditions. These data could be used in conservation planning to identify and quantify ecological targets, determine reference conditions, assess threats to conservation and management targets, evaluate strategies to abate threats and maintain or restore biodiversity, evaluate ecological departure from reference conditions and more. LANDFIRE products were designed for national and regional level applications, decision making and strategic planning. Project products may not be appropriate to use on small landscapes. As with any data product, it is recommended that users review the data carefully and understand its content before using it. LANDFIRE data products are free and available online at Learn more about how LANDFIRE data can integrate with CAP here:

    FOR A PRIMER ON LANDFIRE'S SPATIAL DATA RESOURCES, go to the LANDFIRE site on the Conservation Gateway.


    Examples of CAPs with Spatial Information:

    Examples provided by: Cristina Lasch (Mexico), Mark Goering (Pacific Northwest), Rob Taylor and Phil Sheppard (Zumwalt, Oregon), Dan Kelly (Illinois Valley, Oregon), Mary Finnerty and Debbie Pickering (Cape Blanco, Oregon), Sara Gottlieb (Georgia), and James Byrne (Caribbean)

    There is a recording of a WebEx presentation where 6 different spatial CAP case studies [Sara Gottlieb (Georgia), Terri Schulz (Colorado), Leo Sotomayor (South America), Lilian Pintea (Jane Goodall Institute, Tanzania), Ken Popper (Oregon), and Antonio Esquer (Mexico)] were presented.  Click here to view it in a web browser now, and click here to download


    • A powerpoint by James Byrne including an example of Spatial CAP from a marine site in the Caribbean.


    • Altahama River Conservation Projectm which has a map of the conservation area with managed lands and a freshwater assessment as context.


    Oregon and Washington


    The Future of Spatial CAP

    We are just beginning to develop tools and guidance for considering spatial information as part of the CAP process, but some of the things that we are working on include:

    • Improving ConPro's spatial capabilities.  As of April 2009 we have added the ability to upload a shapefile to define conservation project boundaries.  We are still considering supporting other methods of boundary creation (drawing one from scratch online, or copying features from existing layers like protected areas).  We are planning to work on major improvements to the performance and look and feel of the web map, and integrating the web map into the main ConPro page (as opposed to a separate page as it is now).  We also hope to eventually support the creation and management of other layers like targets, threats, and strategies.
    • Development of the "Conservation Data Nodes", which will make it easier to find a wide array of GIS data, including base data for context.  Creation of standard conservation project feature classes in the Conservation Data Nodes, and replicating them so that everyone's edits will be made to the same common layer.  This layer will also be editable via the ConPro web interface.
    • Collecting more examples of spatial CAPs that have worked well, finding out what tools and guidance people want, and coming up with a "how-to" guide for using spatial information in your CAP.
    • Working with Miradi to develop a spatial component of the software.  In the meantime, Miradi users will be able to use ConPro for their spatial data creation/management.
    • Developing geoCAP across marine, freshwater and terrestrial projects which includes developing specific relationships to ecregional data and regional priorities.

    Some additional suggestions that we have received for future changes include:

    • Is it possible for weighting of targets, threats, etc. in ConPro and the workbook to be based on areas of polygons that define them?  If so, we need to separate our sources of stress (e.g. a paper mill on a river) from the impact they have (e.g. reduced dissolved oxygen for a long stretch of the river), so we calculate area based on impact rather than source size.
    • Could geoCAP have analysis scripts and tools to help people get started with common tasks beyond simple threat-target interactions?  Will it be easy to add in content to geoCAP, or at least to link to other Model Builder models from geoCAP?
    • There is a need for 2 versions of information systems or other summaries of our data; one simple high-level view aimed at managers or others less familiar with the content, and another more technically detailed and quantitative version with enough information for practitioners to use.  The second version should possible include the ability to examine alternate scenarios based on hypothetical changes.


    Questions for Spatial CAP Practitioners

    We are looking for ideas and examples!  Please send your ideas to Jon Fisher

    • Have you used spatial information in association with a CAP?
    • Is the CAP workbook file in ConPro and were the results released to the public?
    • What kinds of features from the CAP have you made spatial?  For example:
      • project boundaries
        • target distribution
        • threat extent
        • strategy extent
        • viability or threat ranking
        • other (please describe)
    • How are you managing the data?  For example:
      • What format is the spatial data in (shapefile, geodatabase, google earth kml, image, grid, etc.)
      • Is the spatial data linked to the CAP in any way, and if so how?  For example, you could have a "targets layer" without detailed attributes. Or the layer could have target names that don't exactly correspond to the CAP targets.  Or you may the exact same target names in the CAP and the spatial data, or even some kind of ID that links them together. If you have identical names of targets/threats/strategies/indicators in your spatial data and the CAP it will make linking them together a LOT easier.
      • Alternatively CAP focal targets can represent a number of Ecoregional targets and therefore Ecoregional targets can be grouped and linked back to the focal or "umbrella" targets (e.g. a rocky shores focal target may be represented spatially by a number of Ecoregional targets including rock platforms, rock cliffs, etc).
      • Did you (or your GIS staff person) create the data yourself, or is it preexisting/standard data you just found?
      • What other innovations have you made (incorporation of ecoregional data, tools such as geoCAP, etc.)
      • Is an online tool/solution for managing spatial conservation projects data desirable?  What about its relative importance compared to desktop solutions?  Do people in your office use online tools (like ConPro) to share?  How about to actually work directly online (e.g. filling in CAP information in web forms) as opposed to sharing products developed on the desktop?
      • How can TNC Central Science best support you?


    Results from Spatial CAP Survey

    In 2007 Mark Goering (WA) sent out a survey on spatial CAP to TNC staff.  He received approximately 100 responses.  The results are summarized here.