The condition of landscapes and the ecological communities within them is strongly related to levels of human activity. Human-dominated land uses and especially the intensity of the uses can affect adjacent ecological communities through direct, secondary, and cumulative impacts. Using land use data and a development-intensity measure derived from energy use per unit area, an index of Landscape Development Intensity (LDI) can be calculated for watersheds of varying sizes to estimate the potential impacts from human-dominated activities that are experienced by ecological systems within those watersheds. The intended use of the LDI is as an index of the human disturbance gradient (the level of human induced impacts on the biological, chemical, and physical processes of surrounding lands or waters). The LDI can be used at the scale of river, stream, or lake watersheds or at the smaller scale of individual isolated wetland watersheds. Based on land uses and land cover, the LDI can be applied using available GIS land use/land cover data, aerial photographs, or field surveys. A description of data needs and methods for calculating an LDI index and several applications of the index as a land use based ranking scheme of the human disturbance gradient for watersheds are given.