Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Significant Natural Heritage Area?
Significant Natural Heritage Areas (SNHAs) are an area of land or water that is important for the conservation of the natural biodiversity of North Carolina. The Natural Heritage Program identifies SNHAs based on biological surveys of natural areas, as authorized in the Nature Preserves Act (G.S. 113A-164.1 to 164.11). Although biologists receive permission from land owners and land managers prior to conducting any biological surveys, identification of SNHAs is based on ecological and biological information, rather than political or property boundaries.
Collectively, the full set of more than 2,500 SNHAs in North Carolina is expected to contain the best populations of rare species, their habitat, and exemplary natural communities. Overall, the goal is to include the full spectrum of organisms and ecological processes that compose North Carolina’s Natural Heritage. A few SNHAs are added each year as biologists gain access to new tracts of land. Likewise, a few SNHAs are removed from the data set annually, as they are degraded by impacts or if better examples of priority species or natural communities are found.
Information about SNHAs is provided to land owners, land managers, and land use planners to aid in decision-making. Because conditions on the ground may change based on natural forces or land management decisions, we recommend that boundaries and data related to SNHAs be verified with a site visit before any land use decisions are made based on Natural Heritage Program data.
Maps and descriptions of SNHAs can be found in Natural Areas Inventory Reports for each county, Site Reports, GIS shape files, and the online map viewer; all of these sources can be accessed via the Natural Heritage Program website or by contacting staff. For more information, click here.
What is a Registered Natural Heritage Area?
When a landowner signs an agreement with the Secretary of DENR to voluntarily protect the natural heritage value of a Significant Natural Heritage Area, the site is considered a Registered Natural Heritage Area. The Registry agreement is non-binding and can be canceled at any time, although the Natural Heritage Program appreciates 30 days written notice. The Registry is authorized in the Nature Preserves Act (G.S. 113A-164.1 to 164.11). For more information, click here.
What is a Dedicated State Nature Preserve?
Publicly or privately-owned Significant Natural Heritage Areas can be dedicated as State Nature Preserves under the Nature Preserves Act (G.S. 113A-164.1 to 164.11) to establish a lasting conservation commitment. A dedication agreement is similar to a conservation agreement in that it identifies specific activities, such as foot trails, that can occur on the property, and other activities, such as commercial development, that are prohibited. Dedications are approved by the Governor and the Council of State and are held in trust for the benefit of the people of North Carolina. For more information, click here.