Natural Areas Program

The Tennessee Natural Areas Program, in the Division of Natural Areas, was established to provide oversight and management of Tennessee designated state natural areas. The Program administers the Natural Areas Preservation Act of 1971 (T.C.A. 11-14-101). The Act provides statutory authority for the protection in perpetuity of designated state natural areas.

There have been 85 natural areas designated since passage of the Act, The Program recommends new natural areas for designation. The General Assembly amends the Act, the Governor signs the legislation and natural areas are then protected by law.

The Program seeks to include adequate representation of all natural communities that make up Tennessee's natural landscape, and provide long-term protection for Tennessee's rare, threatened and endangered plant and animal life. Prior to designation, sites are inventoried by the Natural Heritage Program and ranked using NatureServes Biodiversity Ranking System. Designated natural areas are publicly owned or are private lands encumbered by a conservation easement.

Management and recreational use of state natural areas are governed by the Act, the Rules for the Management of Tennessee Natural Resources Areas and natural area management plans. Some natural areas are managed through cooperative management agreements with local, other state and federal agencies as well as with non-governmental organizations. Most designated natural areas are managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation.

In addition, the Program administers the Natural Areas Registry Program which develops non-binding voluntary agreements with private and public landowners to voluntarily protect sites of ecological importance. There are presently over 25 registered state natural areas.

Natural areas represent some of Tennessee's best examples of intact ecosystems and serve as reference areas for how natural ecological processes function. Research activities that provide greater knowledge of these processes are permitted upon approval of the Division of Natural Heritage. Applications for Scientific Research Collecting Permits may be obtained and submitted to the Division of Natural Areas for considerations. Upon approval, a permit will be returned to the applicant and must be in the applicant's possession when conducting permitted research activities. State law prohibits any collection of plant, animal or mineral from state natural areas without a valid scientific research-collecting permit.