What. Last Great Places® is a systematic research undertaking to assess priority areas for conserving natural diversity in the United States, using publicly available data for the lower 48 states.

Almost 100 years ago, the first effort to identify America’s priority areas for conservation was spear­headed by Victor Shelford, a leader of the Ecological Society of America. In 1927 Shelford assembled and edited The Naturalists Guide to the Americas, a 761-page volume that sought to catalogue “all preserved and preservable areas in North America in which natural conditions persist.”

Varied efforts have followed, most notably the ecoregional assessments done by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) from 1998 through the mid 2000s. These efforts have provided important contributions, but have not continued on a systematic basis to identify priority places to conserve America’s natural diversity across all ecoregions.

Why. A decade before the term “biodiversity” was coined, a compelling case to conserve natural diversity was made by Dr. Robert E. Jenkins, then Vice President for Science for The Nature Conservancy. In 1975 Jenkins penned an essay The Preservation of Natural Diversity as the introduction to a TNC report by the same name to the U.S. Department of Interior, with a survey and recommendations.

Identifying specific places is vital for taking effective conservation action to conserve natural diversity- as well as focusing limited resources on the most critical areas.

Then effective conservation management must be implemented at these places – including: planning and and implementing conservation strategies; measuring conservation success; providing sufficient funding; and assuring continuity of effort. Also strategies are often required to address threats that impact multiple places.

Who. Last Great Places was developed by Greg Low and is provided as a service by Applied Conservation. Greg is a semi-retired conservationist with over 45 years devoted to place-based biodiversity conservation. Greg worked in various field and leadership capacities at The Nature Conservancy for 36 years, and currently provides volunteer consulting services to help conserve Last Great Places.

The Nature Conservancy, 1984 – 28 minutes

THE GARDEN OF EDEN is an award-winning short documentary produced by TNC in 1984 that calls for conserving biological diversity.  Although now only available in low resolution video and slightly dated, it is nevertheless engaging and compelling.