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Determining the ecological value of landscapes beyond protected areas

Katherine J. Willis, E.S. Jeffers, C. Tovar, P.R. Long, N. Caithness, M.G.D. Smit, R. Hagemann, C. Collin-Hansen, J. Weissenberger
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Journal Article
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Whilst there are a number of mapping methods available for determining important areas for conservation within protected areas, there are few tools available for assessing the ecological value of landscapes that are ‘beyond the reserves’. A systematic tool for determining the ecological value of landscapes out- side of protected areas could be relevant to any development that results in a parcel of land being trans- formed from its ‘natural’ state to an alternative state (e.g., industrial, agricultural). Specifically what is needed is a method to determine which landscapes beyond protected areas are important for the ecolog- ical processes that they support and the threatened and vulnerable species that they contain. This paper presents the results of a project to develop a method for mapping ecologically important landscapes beyond protected areas; a Local Ecological Footprinting Tool (LEFT). The method uses existing globally available web-based databases and models to provide an ecological score based on five key ecological fea- tures (biodiversity, vulnerability, fragmentation, connectivity and resilience) for every 300m parcel within a given region. The end product is a map indicating ecological value across the landscape. We demonstrate the potential of this method through its application to three study regions in Canada, Algeria and the Russian Federation. The primary audience of this tool are those practitioners involved in planning the location of any landscape scale industrial/business or urban (e.g., new town) facility outside of pro- tected areas. It provides a pre-planning tool, for use before undertaking a more costly field-based envi- ronmental impact assessment, and quickly highlights areas of high ecological value to avoid in the location of facilities. 

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