County Natural Areas Inventory Program

Elf Orpine by Bruce Sorrie

What is a county natural areas inventory?

An inventory of a county's natural areas is a systematic search for the best examples of natural habitats and locations of rare species in a North Carolina county. These natural area inventory surveys are used to produce reports and maps that identify and describe the most important natural areas.

Why are inventories of natural areas needed?

Natural areas are resources that make North Carolina and its counties attractive to live in and visit. Natural areas are critical to the environmental health and quality of our state and counties. Natural areas are reservoirs of biological diversity, and sanctuaries for native plants and animals whose survival may be in jeopardy.

Who uses a natural areas inventory?

Planning for the best use of natural areas requires knowing where and what kinds of natural habitats exist, which locations are the best, and which are protected. Having answers to these questions can prevent conflicts over land uses and help guide economic development in balance with protection of environmental resources. Natural areas inventories help landowners plan for growth and development by identifying those natural resources important for maintaining biological diversity and protecting the quality of life. The value of county inventories for planning purposes was recognized recently, when Durham County was honored with an award from the National Association of Counties for sponsoring its county-wide inventory of natural and cultural resources.

View County Inventory Documents

Where have county natural areas inventories been done?

The Natural Heritage Program has conducted comprehensive natural areas surveys for 92 North Carolina counties. Funding for natural area inventories was historically provided in large part by the former Natural Heritage Trust Fund, and is currently provided by the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Whenever possible, matching funds are secured from local governments or raised by a partner, such as a land trust. The commitment of partner agencies to natural area inventories and to local conservation actions is greatly appreciated.

View the County Inventory Status Map

When are regional inventories conducted?

Occasionally another conservation partner contracts with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program for a specific project. Two regional inventories are underway: Roanoke River Brownwater Floodplains and Tar River Brownwater Floodplains. Other recent regional inventories include: an inventory of landscape habitat indicator guilds in the Uwharrie Mountains, and a longleaf pine survey in the Sandhills and Coastal Plain.

Who does the work?

The Natural Heritage Program employs field-based biologists who specialize in county inventories. Each biologist is assigned to a county for approximately two years to conduct the inventory. Our inventory biologists have familiarity with the natural resources of their area and often are local residents. Natural Heritage Program central staff biologists provide technical assistance and review the final reports. Discoveries from the inventory are incorporated into the Natural Heritage Program database. Occasionally, we supervise work done by contractors for specialized surveys.

How does the inventory affect landowners?

Inventory biologists must obtain permission before surveying private property and will provide inventory results to the landowners. The purpose of the inventory is to collect ecological information. This information can be used by landowners in determining the best use of the land. The information can also be used by biologists to help understand the natural biodiversity of North Carolina, and it is sometimes used by others for environmental assessments and planning. The Natural Heritage Program is not a regulatory program and does not enforce endangered species laws. We do provide our data to local stakeholders and other partner agencies upon request.

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