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Natural Area Conservation

Oregon's natural areas are conserved when landowners or land managers choose to establish a natural area on lands they own or manage. Natural areas can also be permanently protected if a conservation group, state or federal agency buys private land to conserve it. More commonly, it occurs when a state or federal agency designates a site as a natural area in an agency plan. The federal and state agencies rely on different mechanisms, depending on the laws and rules that guide their actions. Descriptions of the agency designations and natural area programs are included in this chapter. In addition this chapter discusses different mechanisms for establishing Natural Areas and outlines various public and private land management designations which together create the statewide system of natural areas. Natural areas can be conserved voluntarily on private lands, either on a short term basis by an interested landowner, or through a conservation agreement or easement, which has a set time span. Efforts to make it easier for landowners to conserve habitats on their lands and to provide incentives for landowners to restore habitats on private lands have been increasing and are an important focus for the conservation efforts outlined in the Oregon Conservation Strategy. While these are important for conservation overall, since the first Natural Areas law was passed in Oregon in 1974, voluntary conservation by private landowners has not been an effective method for establishing natural areas. In Oregon, the majority of natural areas have been established by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service on federal lands. So, the primary partner in establishing and managing natural areas is the Pacific Northwest Interagency Research Natural Area Committee which works with the federal agencies to establish federal Research Natural Areas (RNAs) on public lands. The Interagency RNA Committee works cooperatively with the Natural Area programs in Oregon and Washington to implement the states’ natural area plans. The process for establishing natural areas is different for the federal, state and private lands in Oregon, and these are described below. Regardless of the owner, for a site to be designated as a natural area in the state, three steps need to be taken: 1. Search databases and literature at the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center, university libraries, herbaria and other information sources, and contact experts in the scientific and professional community to determine if the site contains species or plant associations needing representation. 2. Visit the site to evaluate the size and quality of the elements present. 3. Make a recommendation to the appropriate oversight group that the area be designated.