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A User's Guide to the Google Earth Map

NRDC has used Google Earth to map lands and resources protected by local, state and federal regulations as a way to initially identify areas that are best kept off limits to energy development. These areas are grouped into three categories:

  • Prohibited: Energy development is off limits by law or policy. These areas include national parks, wildlife refuges, state parks and more.
  • Restricted: Energy development is limited by land use plans or policies. These areas include designated critical habitats for endangered and threatened species.
  • Should be Avoided: Energy development could potentially be allowed but would be highly controversial. These areas include lands proposed for national wilderness preservation.

In Google Earth, these categories are represented by colored layers. (See the Glossary for more detail about what falls into each category.) You can view a region of interest and click on label points to get more detailed information about a particular protected area or feature. This map can be used as a first step in assessing whether a location would be suitable for proposed projects, including transmission lines.

A word of caution: Not all of the land that lacks a special designation would be a candidate for renewable energy projects or transmission lines. NRDC has only identified the most well-known sensitive lands, and some may not be included on our map due to gaps in available data. Local and regional knowledge, as well as assistance from experts at state and federal agencies, will be needed to identify all inappropriate locations for energy development. This map is also not a substitute for the in-depth environmental reviews that are required by federal law and some states.

Despite these limitations, this mapping project can help Westerners begin making smart decisions about where and how to develop renewable energy sources while minimizing damage to the region's wildlands, wildlife and cultural resources. Knowing the location of sensitive lands is the first step toward ensuring that new projects and new transmission lines are built in the right way.

Launch the Mapping Tool (Requires a free download of the Google Earth software.)

last revised 5/27/2009

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