1. Why was the National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) built?
No single, nationwide system existed for sharing and managing information about conservation easements. By building the first national database and web site to access this information, we will help agencies, land trusts, and other organizations plan more strategically, identify opportunities for collaboration, advance public accountability, and raise the profile of what’s happening on-the-ground in the name of conservation.
2. Who is involved in this effort and who supports this effort?
Major funding for NCED is provided by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. Additional financial support has been provided by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Knobloch Family Foundation, the Graham Foundation, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The NCED team includes the following leading conservation organizations: Conservation Biology Institute, Ducks Unlimited, NatureServe, The Trust for Public Land, and (founding partner) Defenders of Wildlife. These groups have extensive local and regional experience with conservation easements and database management, and expertise developing user-friendly web sites to access information.
Three federal agencies – the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Forest Service – are sponsors of the effort and are partnering with the Endowment in support of the national database. Other key sponsors include The Nature Conservancy, and the Land Trust Alliance, which represents the views and concerns of the nation’s nearly 1700 local and regional land trusts.
3. What data are collected and how?
The NCED database includes basic information on the conservation easements (who holds the easements, date of easement acquisition, purpose, etc) and the location. Currently, The Trust for Public Land is responsible for collecting information on publicly held easements and Ducks Unlimited is responsible for collecting information on privately held easements. In addition, the National Conservation Easement Portal housed on the Conservation Registry offers organizations and agencies a customized mapping tool that allows them to draw their easement on a map (or upload a shape) and data entry fields to add accompanying information.
Although the National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) is focusing on collecting easement data, we are also integrating the data with other tools and efforts that are trying to develop a more complete conservation picture. One such effort is the public-private partnership that is developing the Protected Areas Database of the U.S. (PAD-US CBI Edition). The database is an inventory of public and non-profit fee title lands. The Conservation Biology Institute is one of the partners in the effort. Therefore, if an agency or organization has fee title data that they would like to share along with the easement data, the data collector for the National Conservation Easement Database project can collect that data and pass it on to the Conservation Biology Institute.
4. How is private information handled?
The National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) does not contain any identifying information about landowners. Only publicly available information from land records and basic statistics is included, such as the easement boundary, purpose and holder. In addition, for special instances in which a land trust requests concealing the exact location of an easement, we will not display the location on the map and will withhold the location from downloads. For these easements, all other descriptive information is available for data reports, along with information on all the other easements, through the primary web site – the National Conservation Easement Portal on the Conservation Registry. To illustrate, if there are five easements in a county and two of these easements have requested privacy, only the three non-sensitive easements is shown on the map, while the data reports will summarize all five easements.
5. How is this effort related to other national protected areas mapping efforts, such as the Protected Area Database of the U.S. (PAD-US)?
The National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) contributes to America’s official inventory of protected areas, the Protected Areas Database of the U.S. (PAD-US) managed by USGS. See http://gapanalysis.usgs.gov/padus/ and www.protectedlands.net. PAD-US is an inventory of public and non-profit fee-owned lands and management designations (e.g. Wilderness). The NCED is using compatible technology and coordination with USGS regarding data standards, to ensure that both data sets can be used in creating a complete GIS-based overview of protected areas. Sensitive easement information will not be displayed on PAD-US.
Since the projects are related and include some of the same players, if an agency or organization has fee title data that they would like to share along with the easement data, the data collector for the National Conservation Easement Database project can collect that data and pass it on to the PAD-US Coordinator.
6. Why should I share my easement data?
Sharing data will advance land conservation by leading to a greater understanding of conservation success on-the-ground, helping to identify gaps and needs, advancing public accountability about conservation easements, and improving efficiency in planning and collaborating with other groups. Read more about the key benefits of contributing data to NCED.
7. Am I required to share my data?
No, this is a voluntary effort.
8. Will I have an opportunity to review the data before they are made public?
Upon request, data providers have the opportunity to review their data after it has been collected and checked for consistencies.
9. Will my data be changed or edited?
No, changes or edits will not be made to data. If there are any significant issues with geometry validation or issues concerning any of the attribute data, a data provider will be contacted before any changes or edits are made.
10. How much time will it take for me to participate?
This won’t take too much of your time. You’ll need to prepare the data requested from the data collector in your state and, if you so desire, you can also take some time to review your non-sensitive data before it is published.
11. How can I access the data and who has access to the data?
Users of several public web sites are able to view, analyze, and download data. The main access point for the easement data – the National Conservation Easement Portal – allows public users to view non-sensitive easements on a map and access accompanying information, while also providing the interactive ability to search and create reports. Additional websites, including LandScope America, Conservation Registry, Protected Areas Database of the U.S. (PAD-US CBI Edition), Data Basin, and the Conservation and Recreation Lands system, will include the non-sensitive easement data, letting users view information about easements in context with information about biodiversity and other natural resources. Partners have direct access to the easement database for internal analyses that support decisions in the course of their respective conservation missions. Any published reports or other documents that rely on internal analyses will not include information on any sensitive easement locations.
12. Is this database subject to a Freedom of Information Act request?
No, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request would not apply because this is not a project controlled by the federal (or state) government.
13. Why are people interested in having this information nationwide? What are the benefits?
The National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) greatly aids conservation planning efforts locally, statewide, regionally and nationally. By providing for the first time a comprehensive map of conservation lands, the NCED identifies where many easements already exist and, where few exist, identifies opportunities to branch out. Conservationists can see where pieces of land are protected so that future decisions are more strategic. Easements are the most powerful means to extend conservation beyond public lands and the NCED enables land trusts and agencies to work strategically to expand these protected lands voluntarily. It also contributes to raising awareness about potential opportunities for collaboration that would otherwise not be known. In addition, it helps in building a nationwide constituency in favor of keeping easements protected.
14. How accurate is the database?
We are taking several steps to find and fix inaccuracies. After a dataset is collected, it goes through a quality control process, including geometry validation which helps to ensure there are consistent boundaries. Upon request, data providers also have the opportunity to review their data before it is published, giving the data another check for accuracy.
15. Where are my data stored?
Data is stored in a database hosted by The Trust for Public Land. Only non-sensitive information will be transferred to public web sites for publication.
16. How can I give feedback on the data?
Upon request, data providers are given an opportunity to review their data before it’s published and can provide feedback at that time. In addition, the primary point of public access for the data, the National Conservation Easement Portal housed within the Conservation Registry, provides a feedback form that allows individuals, agencies and organizations to comment and/or question data in the system. The comment and/or question is submitted to a project partner to address and/or resolve.
17. How are data or information being updated over time?
The National Conservation Easement Database partners keep in touch with a network of land trusts and agencies who provide new and updated data over time. As data are updated and validated, it is published on the National Conservation Easement Portal on the Conservation Registry, as well as the other web sites consuming the information. The Easement Portal allows users to enter new information about easements which is vetted through the quality control and validation process before it is published. At least initially, the Portal will not be a place for updating data.
18. What if my organization does not currently have GIS capacity and/or does not have any easements in a digitized form?
If an agency or land trust’s data is not currently digitized, it will be noted in the tracking database and the responsible data collector will follow-up with the agency or land trust to work out a process for getting their data digitized.
This project, however, also offers organizations and agencies the ability to digitize or map their easement information through the National Conservation Easement Portal on the Conservation Registry. Organizations and agencies can manually draw their easement on a map (or upload a shape) using a Google Map and a customized polygon drawing tool. Once information is collected via the portal, it is sent to the easement database for geometry validation and non-sensitive information will be shared with the portal and other public web sites that are publishing the easement map.
19. Can this project help fund the digitizing of easement boundaries?
Depending on how we fund the National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) in the future, we may be able to support efforts to computerize existing paper and other records.
20. Does NCED protect my conservation easement from having a power line sited through it?
Not exactly. NCED will help conservationists urge protection of easements from government-backed land uses like power lines by making government planners aware of where easements are. By showing where easements are, NCED helps people urge planners to avoid easements. Power lines are one such concern because the U.S. Congress has enacted and is considering additional energy policies to build more high-voltage transmission power lines across America. In deciding where exactly these lines will run, the various responsible governing bodies must find paths through or around existing land uses. Protected lands may appeal to the planners if these lands appear to be open and available – which could happen if a conservation easement is in place that no one knows about. NCED can help by displaying easements so planners will consider avoiding them. There is no legal guarantee that lands under easement can be protected from inclusion in a power line; however, NCED enables easement holders to make themselves known and advocate to steer the power line elsewhere. You can learn more about the power line issue at:
21. Does the NCED track the funding for conservation easements?
No, the NCED does not track any funding-related information for easements. However, The Trust for Public Land’s Conservation Almanac does track the amount of public funding spent and acres acquired for land conservation, including easements.