University of Wisconsin–Madison
Spatial Analysis For Conservation and Sustainability

Informing forest conservation planning with detailed human footprint data for Argentina

Download Martinuzzi et al_2021_HF Argentina

Conserving the remaining wildest forests is a top priority for conservation, and human footprint maps are a practical way to identify wild areas. However, available global assessments of wild areas are too coarse for land use decisions, especially in countries with high deforestation rates, such as Argentina. Our main goal was to map the human footprint in Argentina’s forested areas to improve conservation planning at regional and country levels. Specifically, we quantified the level of human influence on the environment and mapped the wildest native forests (i) across forest regions, and (ii) in the different land-use categories of the National Forest Plan, which is a key policy instrument for conserving the nation’s native forests through zoning, and (iii) identified wildest forests that are at risk due to human activities. We analyzed detailed spatial data on settlements, transportation, energy, and land use change, and estimated the areal extent to which these various human activities disrupt natural processes. We defined pixels with human footprint index of zero as wildest areas. We found that a substantial portion (43%) of Argentina’s forested area remains wild, which suggests there are opportunities for conservation. However, levels of human influence varied substantially among forest regions, and Atlantic and Chaco forests have the highest levels of human influence. Further, we found that the National Forest Plan does not conserve the wildest forests of the nation, as most (78%) of the wildest native forests are located in zones that allow silvopasture, timber production, and/or forest conversion to crops, thus potentially threatening biodiversity in these areas. Our map of wildest forests is an important, but first, step in identifying wildland forests in Argentina, as available spatial data layers of human activities capture many, but not all, human influences on forests. For instance, small human features, like certain rural roads, trails, and rural settlements exist in our wildest areas. Our study provides new datasets to assist land use planners and conservationists, and identifies areas for conservation attention in Argentina. More broadly, our analyses highlight the value of detailed human footprint data to support conservation decisions in forest landscapes.