Decision Support Tools (DST)

A Decision Support Tool (DST) is a spatially based computer application or data used for conveying scientific information that informs decision-making through synthesis and interpretation of quantifiable and repeatable scientific data. They provide a process for organizing existing geographical, physical, and biological data for better management of natural resources. The tools which are covered in the decision support courses are interactive, computer-based tools using information and models to improve the process or outcome of strategic conservation planning. Our decision support tools are not a ‘black box’; they do not make decisions for managers, but can be used to facilitate the efficient use of historical and existing resource information.

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Each of the free courses include: videos, readings, presentations, discussions, a course quiz, and a downloadable certificate of completion for each separate course.  You can take as many courses as you like in any order. Individual course mastery is set at 80%.  Once you achieve 80% mastery you will be prompted to download your certificate of completion.  There are two separate certificates of completion, one per course.


Well-connected landscapes are necessary to sustain many of the natural and cultural resources important to the Appalachian region today and into the future. If these large connected areas are to endure and be resilient to impending environmental changes, it will require a collaborative effort involving many organizations and reaching across jurisdictional and political boundaries. This course will explain the science behind the development of NatureScape resources, demonstrate to users how to access the data and online tool, provide examples of how this resource can be used to make management decisions, and guide users through an interactive exercise using the data in a case study activity. 

The Classification and Mapping of Cave and Karst Resources page and the Cave and Karst Resources Gallery within the AppLCC Conservation Planning Atlas (CPA) serve as clearinghouses for Appalachian karst landscape and cave-limited species knowledge and data and provides users with tools that are needed to make informed resource management decisions. This course will explain the science behind the development of the information resources, demonstrate to users how to access the data, provide examples of how this information can be used to make management decisions, and guide users through an interactive exercise using the data in a case study activity. 

Ecosystem services are the benefits people receive from nature. These are abundant in the Appalachians, from clean drinking water and sustainably harvested forest products to nature-based tourism. They also include the sense of home that communities find in rural landscapes and the values that Americans place on conserving biodiversity.

These essential services and the natural resources they depend on are extremely valuable to society, but are placed at risk by processes driving landscape change in the Appalachians such as urbanization and climate change. Some processes, such as energy development, produce both risks and benefits to society. Our challenge is to find a balance that sustains all of the benefits that people value.

To meet this need, the Appalachian LCC has collaborated with the US Forest Service to provide information and tools that fully integrate society’s value of ecosystems with future threats to better inform natural resource planning and management. Through links on this page, users can access information, maps, data, and additional resources brought together through this collaboration.

Models of wind, shale gas, and coal development for the entire study area have been created to predict potential future energy development and impacts to natural resources within the Appalachians. Models and data from all development projections populate a web-based mapping tool to help inform regional landscape planning decisions.

The energy forecast web-based mapping visualization tool of this energy assessment combines multiple layers of data on energy development trends and important natural resource and ecosystem services, to give a more comprehensive picture of what potential energy development could look like in the Appalachians. The tool shows where energy development is most likely to occur and indicates areas where such development may intersect with other significant values like intact forests, important streams, and vital ecological services such as drinking water supplies.

An innovative riparian planting and restoration decision support tool, funded by the Appalachian LCC, is now available to the conservation community. This user-friendly tool allows managers and decision-makers to rapidly identify and prioritize areas along the banks of rivers, streams, and lakes for restoration, making these ecosystems more resilient to disturbance and future changes in climate. It will also help the conservation community invest limited conservation dollars wisely, helping to deliver sustainable resources.

The Appalachian region is rich in biodiversity that is highly threatened by energy production, development, and a host of other factors. Large-scale impacts such as climate change will play out within this context, affecting habitats and species in different ways. Understanding the vulnerability of various species and habitats within the Appalachian LCC to such changes is of critical importance. Identifying the steps needed to acquire vulnerability information and then using this information to inform adaptation and mitigation strategies is a major research priority of the LCC.