The Conservation Biology Institute Protected Areas Center (PAC) is a centralized location to explore the significance of land and water within protected areas.
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Critical spatial data and information on the status of land and water protection at various scales are available on the PAC.
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US Protected Areas

Terrestrial Conservation Estate of the United States
The terrestrial conservation estate of the United States is a complex network of fee lands (lands owned and dedicated to the preservation of biological diversity and other natural, recreation and cultural uses - managed for these purposes through legal or other effective means) and easements (lands under a voluntary restriction agreement between landowners and land trusts or other public agencies).  These data are critical to a better understanding of protected land ownership and management of natural, recreation and cultural resources across the country.  It is now possible to visualize and download these data as a single zipped file, which includes:

The attribute information for fee lands and easements are specific and unique to their protection mechanism type and are therefore best represented as two separate thematic layers.  The PAD-US (CBI Edition) product was recently redesigned to focus attribute information about fee lands ownership, management and protection. All easements included in previous version were transferred to NCED along with thousands of newly acquired spatial and tabular information.

Together these products provide the most current and complete data on protected areas in the United States. The PAD-US (CBI Edition) team and the National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) partners worked collaboratively to developed these two unique products that could be used together better characterize the land and water protection across the country....

Marine Protected Areas Inventory

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), according to Executive Order 13158 (May 200), are defined as "an area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection to part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein".  In the U.S., MPAs span a range of habitats including the open ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes.  They also vary widely in purpose, legal authorities, agencies, management approaches, level of protection, and restrictions on human uses.

Over the past century, MPAs have been created by a mix of federal, state, and local legislation, voter initiatives, and regulations, each established for its own specific purpose. As a result, the nation’s collection of MPAs (reserves, refuges, preserves, sanctuaries, areas of special biological significance, and others) was fragmented, complex, confusing, and potentially missing opportunities for broader regional conservation through coordinated planning and management. In 2000, the Department of Commerce received a directive to work with federal agencies, states, territories and stakeholders to establish a national systems of MPAs to integrate and enhance the nation's MPAs to improve conservation of the nation’s marine ecosystems, cultural resources, and fisheries by bringing these diverse sites and programs together to work on common conservation objectives.

Central to the effort to develop a national system of MPAs is the development of an inventory of U.S. marine protected areas.  The Marine Protected Areas Inventory (MPA Inventory) is a comprehensive geospatial database designed to catalog and classify marine protected areas within US waters.  In March 2010, the first MPA Inventory was published, including information on over 1,600 sites. 

The MPA Inventory was expanded to include improvement in the capabilities of the Inventory database and to reflect the best available information on MPA resources and management.  In March 2012, a updated version of the MPA Inventory was published with the additional of 100 sites. The Inventory continues to expand, incorporating data on physical, cultural and ecological resources, scientific monitoring activities, major management activities, and legal authority data at the site level.  In order to create a repeatable and robust protocol for data collection and storage that can be replicated on a regional or national scale, this effort is being undertaken in phases. The Inventory data are current through March 2012 and are provided online in both tabular and GIS form, as well as through an interactive web-based data viewer.

The MPA Inventory was developed with extensive input from state and federal MPA programs and drawn from other publically available data. The MPA Center is continually updating and verifying the Inventory data, so and welcomes any new site information, existing site clarifications or updated spatial boundary data. The Inventory data should not be used for regulatory purposes; please consult the Federal Register for the official record....

National Conservation Easement Database (NCED), October 2015

In 2010, the National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) an initiative of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Community, published the first national database of conservation easement information. This public-private partnerships brought together national conservation groups, local and...

Protected Areas Database of the United States, PAD-US (CBI Edition) V2

Protected areas are the cornerstone around which regional, national and international conservation strategies area developed. Through protected area designations, land and water are set aside in-perpetuity to preserve functioning natural ecosystems, act as refuges for species, provide public access to recreation and the preservation of natural historic sites. 

The Conservation Biology Institute has been managing a protected area database of the United States since 1999, PAD-US (CBI Edition) Version 2 is the most current release of these data.  The database has been redesigned in this last iteration to be used along with the National Conservation Easement Database (NCED), to visualize the entire terrestrial conservation estate of the United States.  The PAD-US (CBI Edition) Version 2 has been refined to better reflect only fee simple lands.  It portrays the nation's protected areas with a standardized spatial geometry and valuable attribution on land ownership, management designations and conservation status (using GAP and IUCN coding).  

These data area intended to provide a critical inventory of protected lands available to a range of audiences from the general public to the land managers about the status land and water protection in the United States.

The Primary Features of PAD-US (CBI Edition) Version2:

  1. CBI aggregates all available, spatially explicit information on protected areas in the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii. PAD-US (CBI Edition) Version 2  includes updates to  thirteen state (AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, MI, MT, ND, OR, SD, TN and WA), all TNC fee lands, and all Wilderness Areas across the nation.
  2. CBI supports free downloads of PAD-US (CBI Edition) Version 2 in multiple formats. Users can download the full database as a ESRI geodatabase or shapefile at ( Individual state extractions can be visualized and downloaded from the Data Basin platform.
  3. CBI maintains high standards regarding consistent and comprehensive attribution of protected area attributes, such as ownership, management responsibilities, designations, and conservation intent. For example, secondary and tertiary designations  are included to represent protected lands with multiple management categories.  This allows for precise representation of complex conservation patterns (e.g., a Wilderness Areas within a National Forest).
  4. CBI retains and publishes all information from our source data regarding the agencies that own and manage each protected area, along with local designations and local names.  CBI also includes generalized and  standardized fields to facilitates easy searches of common protected area designations and ownerships across political boundaries. The PAD-US (CBI Edition) Version 2, provides dataset organization and search tips.
  5. CBI publishes one "flat file" of U.S. Protected Areas by carefully correcting the minor overlaps and gaps that result from the aggregation of multiple datasets.  These errors are reconciled with permission from the source.  Error correction is guided by set standards outlined in our Standards and Procedures document.  Where possible, we also attempt to identify and correct major topology corrections in collaboration with the original source of the data.
For more information or to download the full PAD-US (CBI Edition) Version 2 database visit our PAD-US (CBI Edition) project page....

Protected Areas News

  • Apr 17 - South Africa's First Offshore Protected Area Declared
    South Africa's first offshore marine protected area (MPA), is declared over the Prince Edward Islands, by the Department of Environmental Affairs.  This designation is part of an effort to protect the country's offshore and deep ocean areas.
  • Feb 26 - Monterey Synposium to present data on marine protected areas
    Central Coast, scientists, policymakers and the public are gathering in Monterey, California this week to present results from monitoring efforts in the marine protected areas in the region. Central Coast region has a total of 29 MPAs, including Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve and the waters off Point Sur.

    Full text from the article published by the Montorey Herald, by Jeannie Evers - February 20, 2013

    Five years after California established the first in a statewide network of marine protected areas on the Central Coast, scientists, policymakers and the public are coming together to take stock.

    About 350 people will gather in Monterey next week for a three-day symposium, State of the California Central Coast, that will present results from monitoring efforts in the region.
    The data, some of which will be released in a report Wednesday on the first day of the symposium, will provide a benchmark for future studies of marine protected areas.

    "It's too soon to draw broad conclusions about the network as a whole, but we can use (the results) to measure future changes on the ocean and on the economy," said Holly Rindge, communications manager with California Ocean Science Trust, one of the hosts of the symposium.

    Marine protected areas, or MPAs, were created under the Marine Life Protection Act in 2007 to protect and restore the ocean's habitats and wildlife. The statewide network of 124 underwater refuges was completed in December.

    There are 29 MPAs on the Central Coast — the first of five regions to be established — stretching from Pigeon Point to Point Conception. Together, they represent about 204 square miles of state waters, according to the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation. Among the local MPAs are Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and the waters off Point Sur.

    Next week's symposium is part of a broad plan to share monitoring results with policymakers and the public, which became keenly interested when the MPAs were first set up on the Central Coast, Rindge said.

    "We hope they're going to get a better understanding of ocean conditions in the region," she said.

    Similar events for other regions aren't yet planned, but the science trust's MPA Monitoring Enterprise program plans to release reports on those areas when results are in, she said.
    Baseline studies in Central Coast waters looked at kelp forests, nearshore fishes, rocky intertidal zones, deep-water marine life and human activities, according to MPA Monitoring Enterprise. Though five years is not enough time to see a full ecological response to implementation of MPAs, Rindge said, there are early changes being seen in some species, such as black abalone and rock fish.

    In addition to scientists and policymakers, the symposium is attracting stakeholders such as fishermen, conservationists and recreational ocean users. Presentations will cover research, management, enforcement and other topics.

    Speakers will include John Laird, state secretary for natural resources, and former Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who wrote the Marine Life Protection Act.

    Cost to attend is $60, which includes a night at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, snacks, refreshments and materials. The symposium will be held Feb. 27 to March 1 at the Monterey Marriott Hotel, 350 Calle Principal. To register, see