Setting priorities for protected area planning in a conflict zone - Afghanistan's National Protected Area System Plan

McKenzie F. Johnson, Nina Kanderian, Christopher C. Shank, Haqiq Rahmani, David Lawson, Peter Smallwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Planning for protected area networks is often done on an ad hoc basis, especially in data-poor countries. Afghanistan, a country mired in conflict for the past 30years, has little of the relevant data to plan a protected area network, and security concerns hinder collection of new data. However, conservation of Afghanistan's natural resources will be critical to recovery efforts. To assist Afghanistan in planning for its protected area network, we conducted an analysis to identify ecologically important areas for conservation. We overlaid data from ecoregion, floral, and faunal analyses on a grid map of Afghanistan (313 cells each 2500km 2), and used a ranking system to determine those cells containing diverse and/or threatened ecosystems. A color gradation was applied to each cell (white - least diverse to black - most diverse) to produce a map visually depicting ecological diversity across Afghanistan. Those cells with the highest scores were labeled as Priority Zones - defined as areas in which Afghanistan should prioritize conservation activities for protected area designation. Our results formed the basis of the National Protected Area System Plan of Afghanistan, a document setting quantitative protected area targets and outlining a concrete plan of action for the designation of a protected area network. We found the Priority Zone model to be useful in helping Government partners locate areas potentially important for conservation and prioritize activities for protected area designation. This process may be useful for other conflict or post-conflict countries working to establish protected area networks in a data deficient environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-155
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Afghanistan
  • Conflict
  • Conservation hotspots
  • Conservation planning
  • Protected area planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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