Protected Areas Database
Applied Conservation assessed the inventory of Protected Areas to develop a “core portfolio” of the 2500 most important existing protected areas for conserving natural diversity.
These include national parks, national wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, nature preserves and other places designated for conservation.
In addition a preliminary evaluation was completed of two other conservation place databases using their GIS shapefile datasets. These data will be further assessed in 2024 to determine which places add the greatest additional contribution to biodiversity conservation. The two datasets, with links to additional information are:
Eight factors important for capturing and conserving natural diversity were evaluated for all protected areas, using GIS datasets with coverage of the lower 48 states.
Size – The GIS-determined acreage of the protected area. Larger areas have greater species richness and better accommodate large-scale natural disturbances. Data Source: USGS PAD-US
Ecosystem diversity – The existing vegetation type for over 700 natural upland and wetland ecological systems in the lower 48 states. Variety for each area. Data Source: LANDFIRE
Imperiled species – Habitat suitability for over 2200 endangered, threatened or imperiled species. Average of maximum and mean values for each area. Data Source: NatureServe
Degree of human modification (aka human footprint)– Combined degree of human settlement, agriculture, transportation, mining & energy production, and electrical infrastructure. Mean value for each area. Data Source: NASA
Vegetation condition – Departure of ecological systems from their natural range of variability for vegetation composition, structure and ecological processes. Mean value for each area. Data Source: LANDFIRE
Ecological resilience – Diverse topography, bedrock, soil and micro-climates, deemed more likely to sustain native plants, animals, and natural processes into the future as climate changes. Mean value for each area. Data Source: TNC
Conservation management status – Whether land is managed for permanent biodiversity maintenance through some legal and/or institutional mechanism. Mean value for each area based on GAP status 1 -4. Source: USGS PAD-US
The data for all eight factors for over 50,000 protected areas over 1 square kilometer was compiled using ArcGIS Spatial Analyst and entered into a Postgres database.
Places were then ranked using a minimum/maximum scoring methodology for each of the evaluation factors (except size, which was graded on a scale using the species-area curve), with a typical scoring range of 0 to 20 for the lowest rated site to 100 for the highest rated site.
A weighted scoring system was established for purposes of analysis. For the primary Last Great Places analysis, equal weights were assigned to all eight factors, and a final score calculated for each site.
Each site was then assigned national and ecoregional percentile rankings based on its score. The national and ecoregional ranks were equally weighted so as to include representation of sites and ecosystems across all ecoregions in the final rankings.
The 2500 top-ranked sites include areas in 68 of the 69 ecoregions in the lower 48 states and constitute the Last Great Places.
A document with detailed information on the data sources and assessment methods will be prepared in 2024.
Note: Icons for evaluation factors courtesy of Flaticon