Frequently Answered Questions

We’ve tried to build NatureServe Surveyor to be as intuitive as possible, but though the tool is relatively simple, the underlying data and queries are downright complex, so we’re bound to get questions. Here are some that have cropped up so far. (Have others? Please provide your feedback!)

Click on a question to see the answer.


NatureServe Surveyor allows you to easily screen for the known presence of threatened, endangered, and other at-risk species across most of the United States and Canada. It is designed to reduce surprises, allowing you to factor these species into planning and decision-making, even at the earliest stages of your project. That said, there are cases where Surveyor might not be the best tool for you: If you are working primarily or exclusively within a single state or province and that jurisdiction has an online screening or environmental review tool, then using that local tool might be a preferable option for you. However, if you work in multiple areas (now or in the future), or if you work in some states/provinces that do not offer online screening, then a subscription to NatureServe Surveyor can provide you the flexibility and time savings you need.


NatureServe does have member programs all 50 U.S. states and in most of Canada; however, each program is independent, and each operates in its own administrative and legal context within its state or province. Some have strict constraints and guidelines in place regarding how, when, and where they provide information on at-risk species within their jurisdictions. We have actually already done quite a bit of negotiating with some programs to be able to include their data in Surveyor, and we continue to work with the handful of programs that cannot currently provide data to overcome remaining hurdles. For more information about what data is available and how we’re able to display it, see Geographic Coverage.

This lower limit on the size of your surveys is in place to respect landowner concerns and to minimize the risks to species—especially very vulnerable or sensitive species. If you need detailed information for an area smaller than one square mile, your best option is to contact the relevant data steward. The biologists and other professional staff in these natural heritage programs are the best source for local information and expertise on at-risk species within their jurisdictions.

Not at this point. We agree that it could be useful to augment the known locations of species with additional layers of information as they become available, such as critical habitat (as designated by the USFWS) and species distribution models, but we haven’t developed that yet. Please provide us feedback if this is important to you, so we can prioritize our enhancement efforts.

The onscreen map is displayed in Web Mercator.

No.  Surveyor does need to know what projection you are using, but there is no specific projection which you must supply. Since KML (per the KML specification) deals only with WGS84, this is assumed and the appropriate reprojection is automatically applied for you.  Uploaded shapefiles must be in a zipped format that contains a .prj file which defines the projection; similarly, GML files must include projection definition information.  Surveyor will automatically check for the projection definition and then convert it on the fly, as necessary.  Please note, however, that if you are using the Surveyor web service (i.e., not the map interface) reprojection may be required.  See Web Services Integration for more information about using Surveyor as a web service.

Due to data sensitivity, the underlying spatial records in Surveyor are occassionally “fuzzed” or enlarged so that the exact location of a particular species population cannot be pinpointed precisely. The fuzzing means that these records can sometimes “spill over” from an adjacent state or province. Additionally, in some cases, natural heritage programs do map the full extent of populations that extend even across their borders. In these cases, you’ll see that you may have data from more than one “data steward” included in your results even when your Survey was entirely within a single jurisdiction. Similarly, in this example, you may see that you have data from both the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Biological Compliance program in your results. TVA’s jurisdiction overlaps with seven U.S. states. The Navajo Natural Heritage Program also intersects with state programs in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.


No. Surveyor alone, does not fulfill “due diligence” requirements for regulatory processes. NatureServe Surveyor provides a valuable first step, but should not be your only step, in a formal environmental review. Follow-up with local data stewards and regulatory authorities is necessary.

Detailed information about species at very precise spatial scales can be considered sensitive: some species are threatened by poachers or illegal collectors, some have very fragile habitats that can be harmed by over-zealous enthusiasts, and, unfortunately, a few are menaced by deliberate destruction. In addition, in some cases the owners of particular lands have requested that detailed information not be released as a matter of personal privacy or in compliance with local or tribal laws or policies. The spatial scales and corresponding levels of detail in the information provided by NatureServe Surveyor have been carefully chosen to balance these sensitivities with your need for information. Our aim is to respect and address landowner-related concerns and to minimize risks to the species, while still providing a flexible array of options that meet your needs. When more detailed follow-up information is necessary, we provide contact information for the local data stewards.

Currently, the philosophy behind Surveyor is always to include more data, rather than less. There are several reasons for this, with the most important being that, given the small number of trained biologists and the large areas they typically inventory, even a population not observed in a very long time could still be extant, especially if appropriate habitat still exists there. In addition, since Surveyor is a “first stop” for screening—follow-up with local experts is strongly recommended—we felt the initial net should be cast as widely as possible.

Not quite yet, but it is our goal to add other filter criteria soon. NatureServe Global and Subnational Ranks are the next top priority. Please provide us feedback if this, or other filter criteria, is important to you, so we can prioritize our enhancement efforts.

Fuzzing is usually done to protect especially sensitive species location information. In the Detailed reports the “Fuzzed?” indicator is straightforward—it is placed on individual population records that have been enlarged and it means that the actual record, prior to enlargement, may or may not be within your survey area. In the General reports, where you’ll see a list of the species that are known from your survey area, the “Fuzzed?” indicator will only be set to “Y” (Yes) for a given species if all the population records for that species have been fuzzed. For example, if there are two records for “Bird sp. 3” in your survey area, one from the Virginia Division of Natural Heritage that had been fuzzed and one from Tennessee Valley Authority that had not, then the presence of that species in your survey area is not based exclusively on a fuzzed record. Therefore, your report will indicate that Fuzzed is = “N” (No) for that species. Similarly, in the Known report, if you see that at least one population occurrence was known from your survey area, your report will indicate that the data on which that result was based were fuzzed only if all the records that overlapped with your survey area were fuzzed.

We store shapes in an audit trail of surveys on a database securely held behind our firewall. These data are not published anywhere, and the database is not accessible via the Web. We do need to report quarterly to the data stewards the numbers, types, and results of surveys against their data. The reports to the data stewards are password protected and are issued under our data-sharing agreements with them, which in turn include privacy/non-distribution clauses.

We have substantial information available under Web Services Integration and we think you will find the process pretty straightforward. But if you really are stuck, we will do our best to help! Please contact us.


NatureServe is a non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation action. But there are a lot of costs involved in doing so. Surveyor fees cover our basic maintenance and upkeep costs for the tool and also provide much-needed support for aggregating and integrating information from the independent natural heritage member programs across the United States and Canada.

Sorry, no. Please make sure your survey parameters are what you want before you click the “Survey” button.

And be sure to save your report before you end a survey.

You may receive a refund for unused surveys (less a $50 processing fee) within 30 days of purchase. Contact us, providing your user name and the name of the subscription. Please allow up to five business days for us to process the refund; during that time, any surveys run against your subscription will count as used and not be eligible for refund. You will receive an email confirmation with the date and time of the cut-off and the number of surveys that will be refunded (using the first in/first out method). All refunds will be issued by check.