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September 16, 2021

The analysis was made possible by PAD-US 2.1, the most complete geospatial database of U.S. parks and protected areas ever assembled

A U.S. Geological Survey analysis, completed in August 2021, found a 0.9% increase in the percent of national lands and water protected primarily for biodiversity since the database’s last major update in May 2016.

This was one of the key findings of the Spatial Analysis and Statistics data summaries of the version 2.1 of Protected Areas Database of the U.S. (PAD-US).

The PAD-US database is an aggregation of land and water data provided by land and water management organizations and standardized into a common format. The newest version, PAD-US 2.1, was updated in May 2021 and offers the most complete geospatial database of U.S. parks and other protected areas ever assembled. By giving the American people a detailed accounting of shared investments, the database makes it possible to answer pressing questions about access to outdoor recreation, species decline, climate change adaption, energy siting, and emergency management. Summaries of overall biodiversity protection and public access status are provided nationally and by U.S. State, U.S. Counties, Department of Interior Region, Congressional District, and ecoregion, among other types of geographic units.

In the latest analysis, conservation and recreation measures were assigned to each unit to summarize protection status and the degree of public access for the nation. Using categories called GAP Status Codes, USGS provided a general assessment of management intent to protect biodiversity, capturing the degree to which each area was protected for permanent biodiversity conservation or managed to multiple uses (including conservation).The latest assessment indicates 12.9% of the nation’s lands and inland waters—equivalent to more than 316 million acres—are permanently protected and primarily managed for biodiversity conservation (GAP Status Code 1 and 2). An additional 17% of the nation’s lands and inland waters are multiple-use protected areas (GAP Status Code 3) managed for conservation and activities such as forestry, energy, grazing, and motorized recreation. This represented a 0.9% increase in protected areas primarily managed for biodiversity management since the release of PAD-US v1.4. The Dingell Conservation, Management, & Recreation Act of 2019, which added more than 1.3 million acres of wilderness area and expanded National Parks, is an example of increases in protected areas.

Many of these protected areas offer public access to nature and open space, while developed sites (for example, local parks) are also included in the inventory to help people find nearby parks or park planners prioritize new locations. Current estimates indicate 30.3% of the U.S. is known to be accessible for outdoor recreation (though some may be subject to restrictions such as access permits required or seasonal closures).

The database and statistics will be integral to an interagency effort to support the Biden-Harris Administration’s America the Beautiful initiative. As part of America the Beautiful, the USGS will work alongside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Department of Agriculture to develop an American Conservation Stewardship Atlas. This Atlas will complement the PAD-US by joining together other data sources of conservation and stewardship efforts to represent and measure progress toward goals outlined in the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful Report.

While the USGS spatial analysis and statistics do not include Marine Protected Areas (MPA), they are included in the PAD-US 2.1 database. The MPA data were contributed by NOAA’s National Marine Protected Areas Center, which manages and publishes statistics for MPAs.

Chart breaking down current status of National Protected Lands including U.S. territories.
Chart breaking down current status of National Protected Lands including U.S. territories but does not include marine protected areas.


Highlights of PAD-US (version 2.1) Spatial Analysis and Statistics:

An aggregation of data from managing entities, PAD-US (version 2.1) Spatial Analysis and Statistics include the following components:

  • Spatial Analysis Files that remove overlapping feature boundaries contained within the PAD-US full inventory database to facilitate spatial analysis and the calculation of summary statistics. These data are available in vector and raster file formats.
  • Ready-to-use, downloadable statistics tables summarizing PAD-US 2.1 attributes are available for the nation, by state, by county, and by other geographic units of interest. Statistics tables summarizing the PAD-US inventory by the GAP Status Code and by the Public Access Category are both available.

The Protected Areas Database of the U.S. (PAD-US 2.1) is available for free download on the USGS website.


Contact Information:

Mark Wiltermuth, Science Analytics and Synthesis

USGS Core Science Systems

Phone: 608-769-2248 Email:


Lisa Johnson, PAD-US Coordinator

USGS Cooperator – Boise State University

Phone: 208-874-3102 Email:

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