Pacific Northwest Interagency Natural Areas Network
Welcome!! The mission of the Pacific Northwest Interagency Natural Areas Network is to promote the establishment, use, and management of natural areas in Oregon and Washington. The purpose of this website is to provide useful information to researchers, educators, managers, and others with an interest in natural area in support of this mission. This website is also a repository for information collected as part of joint efforts among agencies actively participating on the network committee.
What are Natural Areas?
Natural areas are tracts of wildlands that serve as prime examples of distinct natural features and ecosystems. They are established for three primary purposes—conservation, research, and education. Natural areas are managed for their ecological processes, and in some cases, to help protect rare or threatened species. Natural areas of the Pacific Northwest range in size from tens to thousands of acres. The current regional network includes >580 sites, encompasses >1,450,000 acres, and is managed by 20 different agencies and organizations. The network continues to grow with the formal designation of new natural areas each year.
The conservation role of natural areas is becoming increasingly important given the continued loss of wildlands from degradation, fragmentation, and permanent conversion for other uses. Natural areas help protect some of the most pristine ecosystems found in the region. Sites within the network also serve as a foundation for several regional and global conservation strategies. Collectively, the network is only eclipsed in size by wilderness and national parks for areas set aside to protect wildlands.
Criteria for selecting new natural areas are outlined in state heritage plans for both Oregon and Washington. In addition, some agencies like the Forest Service and BLM review the need for establishing new natural areas as part of regular management plan revisions and updates.
Research conducted at natural areas has been critical to the understanding and resolution of important scientific, social, and economic issues across the region since the first PNW natural area was established in 1931. Since then, numerous science publications have resulted from data collect on natural areas.
There are several characteristics that make the natural areas network especially attractive for research:
- They are geographically well-distributed throughout the region (click here to see map);
- Collectively, they represent almost the entire gradient of natural biophysical environments found in the Pacific Northwest;
- The biological diversity contained within natural areas allows for study at all hierarchical levels, from genes to individual organisms to complete communities and ecosystems;
- As relatively pristine sites, natural areas can be used as controls for nearby field experiments and well as benchmarks for measuring the effects of management activities; and
- Most natural areas are permanently designated allowing for long-term study of natural ecological processes and change. In fact, the natural areas network may be the best collection of sites for studying long-term effects of climate change given its ecological depth and distribution.
Each agency has its own policy for conducting research on natural areas. Procedures for several of the agencies can be found here.
Educational activities associated with natural areas help connect people with nature and promote understanding of ecology and conservation. Natural areas are available for educational use by university and school groups, native plant societies, and other organizations interested in learning about natural ecosystems. Individuals or groups interested in conducting educational activities on a natural area should contact the managing agency or organization for any policies regarding educational use.