Private land conservation is an essential strategy for biodiversity protection in the USA, where half of the federally listed species have at least 80% of their habitat on private lands. We investigated the alignment between private land protection conducted by the world's largest land trust (The Nature Conservancy) and the science driven identification of priority areas for conservation. This represents the first quantitative assessment of the influence of defining priority areas on the land acquisitions of a conservation non-governmental organization (NGO).
The lands acquired by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) were analyzed using GIS to determine to what extent they were in areas defined as priorities for conservation. The spatial analysis of TNC lands was broken up into land known to be acquired in the last five years, five to ten years ago, prior to ten years ago, and anytime during the last sixty years (including previous sets of data plus acquisitions lacking a date). For the entire history of TNC the proportion of TNC lands within the priority areas was 74%. Prior to 10 years ago it was 80%, 5–10 years ago it was 76%, and in the last five years it was 81%. Conservation easements were found to have lower alignment with priority areas (64%) than outright fee simple acquisitions (86%).
Overall the location of lands acquired was found to be well aligned with the priority areas. Since there was comparable alignment in lands acquired before and after formalized conservation planning had been implemented as a standard operating procedure, this analysis did not find evidence that defining priority areas has influenced land acquisition decisions.