How are Washington’s native plants and ecosystems doing? The 2011 Natural Heritage Plan update tackles that question

Bright columbine
Bright columbine from Rocky Prairie Natural Area Preserve. Photo: Dave Wilderman/DNR

What’s been happening to the native plants and ecosystems in the state? That’s what you’ll find on the Washington Natural Heritage Program web page and in the 2011 Natural Heritage Plan update.

Thirty years ago the Washington Legislature realized that we were on track to lose many native species—species that are critical to the balance of our ecosystems, and who knows what else! In 1981, they established the Washington Natural Heritage Program within DNR. The program manages and shares information on the state’s biodiversity, specifically documenting details about priority species of plants and animals and ecosystems—those that are rare or face a potential risk of extinction.

Natural Areas protect special, unique lands

The legislature also charged the program with identifying areas to be protected as ‘natural areas.’ To help maintain those species and ecosystems that are rare or at risk of disappearing, information from the program provides the foundation for the selection and nomination of state Natural Area Preserves (NAPs) and Natural Resources Conservation Areas (NRCAs).

To identify the species and ecosystems that most need conservation and to clearly describe how the work is being done, the Natural Heritage Program developed the Natural Heritage Plan, starting in the 1980s. Updated every two years, the plan reflects new knowledge and conditions that concern conservation priorities and planning.

Three components to the plan

  • The first component is an updated, statewide list of priority species and ecosystems. These lists drive the selection of potential new natural areas.
  • The second component, last revised in 2007, describes the methodology used by the program to establish priorities and to identify the risk status of species and ecosystems. It also describes the process by which potential Natural Area Preserves and Natural Resources Conservation Areas are selected.
  • The third component is the ‘update’ for the 2011-2013 biennium. This 8-page document describes projects and priority issues being tackled by the Natural Heritage and Natural Areas Programs.

All three components are available on DNR’s website, and the nonprofit conservation organization NatureServe is a key partner.

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