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Mapping Protected Areas

Published May 27, 2011

“Stewardship” is not the same as ownership — when we talk about stewardship, we are talking about how lands are being managed, from a conservation perspective.

A map of public land ownership might look like this:

Protected Areas by Owner

A stewardship map is created by looking at the extent to which the publicly-owned lands are managed with conservation in mind. As part of the gap analysis process a conservation ranking is applied to each land parcel in the database. GAP Status Code 1 and 2 lands have the highest degree of management for conservation, while status 3 lands support multiple uses, including resource extraction (forestry, mining, etc.). Status 4 lands are either unprotected or of unknown management intent.

GAP bases its analysis of species protection on GAP Status Code 1 and 2 lands only. In assigning a stewardship ranking, the gap analysis process emphasizes the managing entity over the owner, and bases the ranking on the expressed long-term intent of the managing entity instead of focusing on short-term processes. The criteria for assigning a ranking include:

  • Permanence of protection from conversion of natural land cover to unnatural land cover such as human-induced barren, arrested succession, or cultivated exotic-dominated landscapes).
  • Amount of the tract protected, with a 5% allowance for intensive human use.
  • Inclusiveness of the protection, i.e., is protection focused on a single feature such as a wetland or particular species or does it encompass all biota and habitat.
  • Type of management program and degree that it is mandated or institutionalized.

A map of GAP stewardship codes applied to public lands might look like this:

Map showing conservation status of public lands in the US

Map showing conservation status of public lands in the US

See our Protected Areas Datababase of the United States viewerto explore Protected Areas data online.