Protected Areas

Overview, categories, and why PAD data is different than some public basemaps

Overview of PAD

The USGS Protected Areas Dataset (PAD) is America’s official inventory of terrestrial and marine protected areas. Transect uses PAD to show users the protected public lands that intersect their project.  PAD includes lands with federal, state, regional, local, joint, and governmental organizational interest. In Transect, PAD data informs users of two important things:

  1. Land ownership information, and
  2. Special regulations or permits that affect the project's footprint, timeline, or budget.

Viewing PAD data

View PAD data by navigating to and clicking on Protected Areas in the lefthand navigation bar of the Transect Report.


The Importance of the Category Column

Not all lands in the PAD are "owned" by a public agency. The Category column in the Transect PAD data table provides categories that define various kinds of public land interest in a property. For example, fee lands are outright owned by a public agency and are likely subject to additional permitting, which are shown in the Permits & Pathways section of the Transect Report.  However, a project within an Approved, Proclamation or Extent Boundary is an area on an agency's radar, but not owned by an agency, and therefore typically does not require any additional permitting.

  • Fee: Land owned outright by public agencies, nonprofits, or private entities.
  • Easement: Non-sensitive conservation and open space easements provided by the National Conservation Easement Database (NCED).
  • Designation: Not an ownership boundary. Rather, these are policy-designated areas that may overlap fee owned land, easements, or other designations.
  • Marine Area: Protected waters, including federal, state, and local areas in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) MPA inventory, as well as Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) managed areas.
  • Approved, Proclamation or Extent Boundary: Not an ownership boundary. These are administrative boundaries used for management or reference purposes. These are areas where a land agency may want to secure more land or make overall plans. These boundaries frequently include significant private land, but there is no agency jurisdiction over them.
  • Combined: Includes one or more of the above categories.

The screenshot below will help you find the Category column in your report.


Why is the PAD data in Transect different than some public basemaps?

Many maps show lands like national parks and national forests as large contiguous blocks of federal ownership, but it is important to note that this is rarely the accurate representation of surface land ownership. Rather, the boundary displayed on public maps is often the Administrative Boundary, but the land ownership within the Administrative Boundary is actually a mix of public and private lands. Actual public surface ownership is represented in the PAD. As such, Transect includes the PAD in Transect Reports instead of the Administrative Boundary so that users know exactly who owns the properties intersected by their project. 

An example of the Administrative Boundary verses the PAD surface ownership at Davy Crockett National Forest, managed by the US Forest Service, is provided below.


Greeninfo Network. What to Know Before Using PAD-US Version 2.0. Available at:

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Gap Analysis Project (GAP). 2018. Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) Metadata. Available at: