Significant Natural Heritage Areas
The Natural Heritage Program has identified more than 2,500 Significant Natural Heritage Areas across the state. A Significant Natural Heritage Area is a site (terrestrial and aquatic) of special biodiversity significance. An area’s significance may be due to the presence of rare species, exemplary or unique natural communities, important animal assemblages, or other important ecological features. Additional SNHAs are identified as inventory work progresses.
Many of these natural areas are on private land and are not open to the public. Before visiting any of these sites, please contact the landowner for permission.
More than half of these areas are entirely or partially in conservation ownership. However, many remain privately owned and are unprotected from threats such as development.
The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program works with many partners, including state and federal conservation agencies, national conservation groups, and the land trust community, to implement protection for these ecologically significant areas. Through these partnerships, and using funding from federal sources and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and the Park and Recreation Trust Fund, the most important areas are brought into protection.
Once a natural area is purchased, it is considered for dedication as a State Nature Preserve. More than 100 state- and privately-owned natural areas are now protected by dedication.
If a natural area is not available for purchase, its ecological significance can be recognized through a registry agreement, which is a voluntary agreement with the landowner that provides limited protection but recognizes the owner's commitment to conservation of the area. More than 300 natural areas are listed as Registered Natural Heritage Areas.