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A major focus of conservation is on protecting areas to ensure the persistence of biological diversity. Because such areas may be large, not easily accessible, subject to change, and sensitive to the surrounding landscape, remote sensing can be a valuable tool in establishing and managing protected areas. We describe three case studies to illustrate how remote sensing can contribute to setting priorities for conservation actions, monitoring the status of conservation targets, and evaluating the effectiveness of conservation strategies. In the Connecticut River watershed, remote sensing has been used to assess flood regimes and identify key areas of floodplain forests and their context for conservation planning. At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, remote sensing has provided information to assess the effectiveness of management strategies to restore fire to the longleaf pine sandhills ecosystem, control invasive species, and prioritize annual prescribed burns. In eastern US forests, remote sensing is being used to evaluate the ecological condition and changes at properties where direct access would be difficult.
As the resolution and capacities of remote-sensing technology continue to develop, however, several issues are becoming increasingly important. It is essential that the spatial and temporal resolution of remote-sensing data be matched to the relevant scales of biodiversity, major threats, and management actions. Data layers must be compatible, both in scale and in measurement properties, and key patterns must be distinguished from irrelevant detail, especially at the finer scales of application in local management. Combining remote sensing with ground surveys can expand the array of information used in management and contribute to the ecological interpretation of remote-sensing data. Because conservation funds are always limited, remote sensing also must be cost effective. This requires balancing the wealth of detail afforded by ever-finer resolution of remote-sensing data with what is actually needed to implement sound conservation and management. Remote sensing is a valuable tool, but it is not a panacea for all of the challenges of conservation monitoring and management.