Dan Coker is Maine TNC’s Senior Spatial Scientist, working with all departments at the Maine Chapter to create and implement tools and analyses that both help TNC decide where and how to work and put critical information in the hands of communities as they grapple with the effects of our changing climate. He is responsible for all spatial data analysis, management, and publication within the Maine chapter. In addition, he serves as a GIS liaison with state and regional partner organizations. One example of Dan’s current work is the development of a comprehensive spatially-explicit system to measure the effectiveness of TNC’s freshwater strategies in Maine.
Thanks to Dan, the Conservancy can provide compelling information to decision makers and inspiring maps and graphics to supporters. Before joining TNC in 2002, he was GIS Manager at the Maine Natural Areas Program. He holds a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Biology and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology.
New Tools Improve Decision Making for Conservationists and Communities
February 16, 2023
As the senior spatial scientist at TNC Maine, I work with a lot of information every day—information that is painstakingly collected by TNC, along with state and federal agencies, and other sources as well. That data can help us answer questions. How large or constricted is a road-stream crossing? Where are roads, houses and businesses that may be impacted by a rising ocean? How extensive is a tidal marsh and what is surrounding it? To find answers, we need to translate this information into something other than tens of thousands of numbers on a spreadsheet.
That’s where spatial science comes in. Working with colleagues, I use all that information to create maps using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. The results provide a visual representation of the real world around us. Environmental professionals benefit from getting this view of the data, and interacting with it to make project decisions. But not everyone is a GIS expert!
Appreciating the need for a more accessible and interactive experience, TNC Maine teamed up with partners to develop the TNC Maine Mapping Portal, a multi-functional hub of interactive information designed to provide user-friendly views generated with all the information available about a number of conservation topics.
The Portal includes a Culvert Flood Risk Explorer that predicts the risk level of potential road flooding at road-stream crossings all over the state. There’s an Aquatic Barrier Prioritization tool, designed to support the river restoration community in identifying in-stream barriers for removal or improved fish passage. The Coastal Risk Explorer shows how rising sea levels will affect roads in coastal cities and towns, illustrating where road networks will be inaccessible to emergency responders and how that relates to the overall social vulnerability of the community. And the Future Habitat Explorer predicts how tidal marshes on Maine’s coast are likely to change as sea level rises. This can facilitate better decisions about development and land conservation.
So far, this one-stop-shop approach to decision-aiding, web-based tools has been used with great success by a host of partners working to restore and conserve the amazing natural resources that Mainers enjoy. Municipal managers and planners can better understand how climate change will impact their communities and take steps to prepare. Conservation groups can prioritize restoration projects that have the best chance of achieving their goals. Coastal land trusts can work to protect areas that are most likely to see expansion of critical tidal marsh habitat.
I invite fellow conservationists, community planners, agency staff, and tribal leaders to visit the TNC Maine Mapping Portal and discover resources that may help you in your work! It's another valuable tool in the toolkits of everyone working to restore and conserve the special places around us.
Johnson, E.S., J.M. Bell, D. Coker, E. Hertz, N. LaBarge, and G. Blake. 2018. A lifeline and social vulnerability analysis of sea level rise impacts on rural coastal communities. Shore and Beach 86(4):36-44.
Coker, D.R., and D.E. Capen. 2000. Distribution and habitat associations of brown-headed cowbirds in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The Ecology and Management of Cowbirds in North America, University of Texas Press, Austin.
Coker, D.R., and D.E. Capen. 1995. A landscape-level habitat model for brown-headed cowbirds in Vermont. J. Wildl. Manage. 59(4):631-637.
Coker, D.R., and J.L. Confer. 1990. Brown-headed Cowbird nest parasitism on the Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers. Wilson Bull. 102:550-552.
Confer, J.L., D.R. Coker, M. Armstrong, and J. Doherty. 1990. The rapidly changing distribution of the Golden-winged Warbler in central New York. The Kingbird 41:5-10.