WCS Canada

Human Footprint

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The Northern Appalachian/Acadian ecoregion is 330,000 square kilometers in area. It is home to 3.8 million people that live in 1.8 million dwellings and travel the region on a network of 324,000 km of roads and 10,000 km of rail. To conserve the wildlife and habitats of this ecologically diverse region it is important to understand the extent and intensity of human activities. 
 
WCS Canada has mapped the Human Footprint of the Northern Appalachians/Acadian ecoregion. This map quantifies the extent and intensity of the cumulative impact of human activities on the land’s surface. This map can be used to identify conservation priorities, support land use planning and assess the potential impacts of new developments.
 
The Human Footprint combines information about Human Population (population density, dwelling density), Human Access (roads, rail), Human Landuses (urban areas, agriculture, forestry, mining, large dams) and Electrical Power Infrastructure (Utility Corridors).

 
This map tells us that greater than 99% of the Northern Appalachian/Acadian ecoregion has been impacted by human activities. However, 16% of the region remains relatively wild (Human Footprint score <=10) and ecologically intact. Theses wild areas are shown in green on the map above, while the areas most impacted are in red and purple.
 
A significant concern in the Northern Appalachians is that the wildest areas of the region are becoming increasingly isolated, separated by regions of high human use and development. Notice how many of the low impacted areas (green, yellow) are separated — fragmented — from each other by zones of high human impact (purple, red, orange).

Conserving and restoring the connections between the wild and intact areas of the Northern Appalachian/Acadian Ecoregion is significant conservation priority. Building and maintaining an ecologically connected region is critical not only to ensure species like moose, black bear, Lynx, bobcat, fisher and marten are able to move across the landscape, but also to increase the region’s resilience and its ability to adapt as species and habitats respond to the uncertain impacts of a changing climate.

Methodology

The Human Footprint methodology was originally developed at the global scale by a team of scientist from WCS and CIESEN.  This global methodology has been tailored to the Northern Appalachian ecoregion by:

1. Increasing the resolution of the Human Footprint map from 1km to 90m
2. Using high resolution digital map data available for the regions from U.S. and Canadian agencies 
3. Tailoring how the impacts of human activities are assessed based research relevant to the ecoregion
 
Click here for a list of the datasets used to map the Human Footprint of the Northern Appalachians.
 

The Last of the Wild

Using the Human Footprint we have identified the largest and wildest places in the ecoregion. Called the "Last of the Wild" they are the 10 largest wild areas within each ecological subregion of the Northern Appalachian/Acadian Ecoregion. There are 12 ecological subregions in the Northern Appalachians, resulting in 120 "Last of the Wild". These are the places that reaming the most intact and potentially represent good conservation opportunities because there are few or no impacts with existing human activities. 

Key Staff

Gillian Woolmer
WCS Canada Assistant Director

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