Newswise — John Freemuth, professor of public policy and political science at Boise State University, has received two grants totaling $715,000 from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Basin CESU (Cooperative Ecosystem Study Unit). The grants will support development and use of data to inform biodiversity conservation policy and planning, with a mission to keep common species common.

One grant, for $400,00, addresses species modeling and land cover. The other, for $315,000, is to study protected areas.

Freemuth’s work will support the USGS Gap Analysis Program (GAP) that utilizes state and regional programs to assess the overall status of wildlife. GAP data delineate species range and predicted distribution maps for more than 2,000 species that occur within the continental United States as well as in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The grants will give us much better information as to areas that have enough protection or might need more. It also will give us better information on species that might need to have more habitat protection, ways to try and work around possible endangered species conflicts and urban areas underserved by outdoor recreation opportunities,” Freemuth said. “All of this informs policy discussions.”

A couple data sets will be used. The USGS GAP Land Cover Data Set includes detailed vegetation and land-use patterns for the continental United States. The data set incorporates the Ecological System classification system developed by NatureServe to represent natural and semi-natural land cover.

The Protected Areas Database of the United States, a national GAP geodatabase, represents public land ownership and conservation lands, including voluntarily provided privately protected areas.

PAD-US assigns lands a conservation status code that both denotes the level of biodiversity preservation and indicates other natural, recreational and cultural uses. The two best known protected areas are national parks and wilderness; however, various state, local government and private protected areas are included.

Researchers’ objectives include:

• Work with the GAP Advisory Council to design and produce a decision making structure to provide policy makers with data and maps that can help guide landscape conservation and inform policy decisions, including the protection of biodiversity.

• Promote coordination with scientists and other data producers, such as the Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools Project (LANDFIRE), the National Land Cover Data Set and federal and state land managers.

• Work with managers of federally protected areas toward a common data management framework. Improve managers’ awareness of measurements of management intent developedthrough the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

• Illustrate where human communities may not have equal and fair access to outdoor recreation opportunities.

• Assist USGS with the North American Intergovernmental Committee on Cooperation for Wilderness and Protected Area Conservation (NAWPA) and their work developing database and common terminology for protected area data.

GAP’s cooperators include spatial analysts, remote sensing experts, conservation biologists, landscape ecologists and public land policy specialists.

“These awards validate the support provided by former Provost Daryl Jones and biology chair Jim Munger (now vice provost for academic planning) when Boise State applied for entry into the Great Basin CESU in 2000,” Freemuth said.