The precautionary principle is an essential guideline in decision making, particularly for regulating novel developments with unknown or insufficiently proven environmental impact. However, due to the inherent component of uncertainty it has been widely criticized for being "unscientific", i.e. hindering progress without sufficient evidence. The consequential postulation, that precautionary measures are only justified if the addressed threats are plausible and the measures reasonable, calls for methods to guide action in the face of uncertainty. Using the example of species conservation versus wind-farm construction, an expanding development with hypothesized - but unexplored - effects on our model species the capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), we present an approach that aims at compensating the lack of knowledge about the threat itself by making best use of the available knowledge about the object at risk. By systematically combining information drawn from population monitoring and spatial modelling with population ecological thresholds, we identified areas of different functionality and importance to metapopulation persistence and connectivity. We integrated this information into a spatial concept defining four area-categories with different implications for wind power development. Highest priority was assigned to areas covering the spatial and functional requirements of a minimum viable population, i.e. sites where the plausibility for threat is highest, the uncertainty as regards importance for the population is lowest, and thus the justification for precautionary measures is strongest. This gradated approach may also enhance public acceptance, as it attempts to avoid either error-minimization bias (i.e. being too restrictive or permissive) the precautionary principle is frequently criticized for.