Natural Heritage Inventory Program

The Natural Heritage Inventory Program maintains a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database which contains information on the distribution and ecology of rare plants, animals, and ecological communities across Tennessee.

The Natural Heritage Inventory Program uses the Natural Heritage Methodology - based on that of its parent organization NatureServe - for the most recent taxonomic information, ecological community classification, methodology, and software development.

The database (BIOTICS) currently contains over 18,000 rare species and plant community occurrence records as well as information on hundreds of conservation sites. Information gathered by program biologists directs conservation, restoration, and management activities of other programs in the department.

Through the Natural Heritage Inventory Program, the Department of Environment and Conservation publishes the state’s rare plant list. The ability to legally list plants as Threatened, Endangered, and Special Concern is granted by the Rare Plant Protection and Conservation Act of 1985.  The list contains over 530 species of plants and fungi.

The program also publishes a list of the rare animals of Tennessee, but the legal listing of animals as Threatened, Endangered, or Deemed in Need of Management is handled by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.  The list contains nearly 700 species of animals.

Along with the legal listing of Threatened or Endangered, the program relies on non-legal, science-based state and global ranks that indicate the relative rarity of a species. These ranks assist in prioritizing conservation activities.

The Division of Natural Areas uses information from the program and other sources for various conservation initiatives including identifying areas for inclusion in the Natural Areas System. Furthermore state, federal, local governments and the private sector rely on the program’s rare species data for conducting environmental reviews and planning.

Natural Heritage Program staff direct and conduct field surveys of species, natural communities, and natural areas of special concern. Staff members also conduct workshops and provide technical assistance to state and federal agencies, local governments, private conservation groups, and industrial and private landowners for use in the management of their lands. The program issues scientific collecting permits for research conducted on state parks and state natural areas, and issues rare plant dealer licenses for nursery farmers who desire to sell or export Tennessee listed endangered plant species.

The Rare Plant Protection and Conservation Act of 1985 also allows the Division of Natural Areas to enter into agreements with other agencies “with respect to programs designed to conserve rare plants. . .” A formal cooperative agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State establishes the division as the lead state agency in the process of listing and recovery efforts for federally endangered or threatened species of plants. Independent of this agreement, the program also conducts U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-funded projects to conserve and protect federal concern animal species. Through extensive field investigations, research and management activities the Division seeks to prevent the extirpation of critically imperiled species and achieve recovery of federal listed species.