The Open Space Council Blog


Protected land in the Bay Area increased by 36,265 acres since 2013

July 13, 2017


Protecting land from development, or conversion to other human uses, means wild animals have room to roam. Native plants can grow and thrive. Rain can fall on undeveloped land, recharging our drinking water aquifers. Trees and plants can filter harmful pollutants and pull greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide out of the air. People have outdoor places to gather and recreate. These are just a few of the reasons that protected lands are something we want to track and fund and support. These natural and working lands are the lands that are being protected, managed, and stewarded by our member organizations and agencies and a host of partners throughout the Bay Area.

The Bay Area Open Space Council and GreenInfo Network have been taking inventory of the Bay Area’s protected lands for 15+ years. The Bay Area Protected Areas Database (lovingly called BPAD) tells a story of the acres of protected land in the region.

Today we release the 2017 BPAD update that covers lands protected between January 2014 and April 2017. We counted 202 additions to the BPAD which together account for 36,265 newly protected acres in the 10 counties of the Bay Area (this includes the 9 counties that touch the Bay plus Santa Cruz County). The current total of protected land is 1,409,134 acres, or nearly 30% of the Bay Area.

Download the Latest BPAD Release

What do we mean by “protected?” These are lands that are permanently protected from development through ownership (“fee title” in real estate lingo) and conservation easements. These are the lands we can bank on being open and natural in perpetuity. And it is critically important to maintain an inventory of those lands.

The BPAD has many uses. The BPAD provides data for the leading question in conservation planning, which is, how much of what we care about (e.g., rare habitats, groundwater recharge zones) is protected? The essential dataset is used in a variety of other ways including:


How does this number compare to historical trends? Between 2010 and 2013, the inventory of newly protected land summed to an impressive 105,000 acres. Land acquisitions vary in size, and because of several large purchases such as Buckeye Forest in Sonoma County and Big Basin Cemex in Santa Cruz County, the protected acreage was higher than this most recent BPAD update. The map below shows the geography of this difference. The areas in yellow are the latest additions to BPAD, the areas in blue are lands protected between 2010 and 2013, and the areas in green are lands protected pre-2010.

The numbers behind the BPAD findings can be found in the summary tables in this PDF (also included in the data download).

Map showing protected land in the Bay Area, highlighting land protected between 2010 and 2013 and between 2014 and 2017. Click here for a larger PDF version of this map.


Although there weren’t any big leaps forward to our goal of 2 million by 2025, of the parcels that were protected between 2014 and 2017, most (nearly 70%) achieve biodiversity goals set forth in the Conservation Lands Network. The Council will be analyzing the effects of these new protected lands on the design of Conservation Lands Network. To stay tuned to that effort, click here and sign up.

It takes collaboration and resources to maintain the BPAD. The Bay Area Open Space Council and non-profit mapping firm GreenInfo Network collaborate to produce the BPAD. The Council raises money for regular updates of the BPAD. It works with its member organizations to supply GreenInfo Network with the most current local GIS protected areas inventories and to verify accuracy. The BPAD inspired the creation of the California Protected Areas Database (CPAD), which GreenInfo also manages. The BPAD can be considered a special subset of the CPAD in that it is updated more regularly than CPAD. In this way, the BPAD remains an inspiration for other California regions as it demonstrates what can be accomplished when a regionally-focused organization commits to collecting and maintaining high-impact datasets.

Our heartiest thanks to the region’s GIS managers and acquisition specialists who help the Council and GreenInfo Network maintain and continuously improve the BPAD. We appreciate your time and data!

Questions or ideas? Contact Tom Robinson at [email protected].

Our thanks to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Coastal Conservancy Bay Program for supporting the BPAD. 

Download the Latest BPAD Release

Note to the GIS folks in the room: The information in the database is generally current up to April 2017. The source information is a GIS database.

Note to the reporters in the room: The information presented in the summary tables (downloadable here and included in the data download) include acquisitions through 2016 in order to facilitate calendar-year comparisons.