Conservation Planning

State of Washington
Natural Heritage Plan

The State of Washington Natural Heritage Plan establishes a list of priority species and ecosystems and describes the criteria and process by which sites are selected for addition to the statewide system of natural areas. The statewide system includes various natural area designations employed by state and federal agencies and private, non-profit organizations. Priorities assigned to species and ecosystems are used by numerous local, state, and federal agencies to guide conservation actions and land-use decision-making.
Prior Plans


What is the conservation impact of the Natural Heritage Program?

The information housed within the Washington Natural Heritage Program's (WNHP) database of rare plants and rare/high quality ecological communities is being applied to the full range of conservation tools, by a variety of agencies, organizations and individuals.
Acquisition / designation of natural areas
Application of the objective methodology used by WNHP ensures that potential acquisitions have high conservation value:
  • The priorities established in the Natural Heritage Plan for the state’s species and ecosystems guide the selection of potential additions to the statewide system of natural areas, which includes federal, state and private natural areas.
  • Natural Heritage Plan priorities are also used in the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program process of identifying key conservation acquisitions for the state.
  • Information from the Natural Heritage database is also available to land trusts and conservation organizations for use in strategic planning and to help inform individual acquisition / easement decisions.
Public agency policies
The WNHP database supports land-management policies of agencies and the private sector.
US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sensitive species policies - Both agencies make use of global and state ranking applied by NatureServe and the Natural Heritage Programs in their internal process of developing a list of Sensitive species. Because the same ranking system is used by NHPs in all 50 states, the USFS and BLM can create a policy that can be evenly applied across the country. In Washington and Oregon, the NHPs also provide the USFS and BLM with the documentation to support the global and state ranks assigned to each species.
Forest Certification - Certified forests are grown to an approved set of standards that demonstrate environmental responsibility and contain provisions for protecting forests with important conservation value. The Natural Heritage Program provides a methodology (the global and state ranking system) and database regarding the location of G1 (globally critically imperiled) and G2 (globally imperiled) species and ecosystems. These resources can help certified public and private land managers in Washington identify potential areas for protection under forest certification standards..
Laws and regulations
WNHP has no direct regulatory authority. The conservation status assigned to species and ecosystems is advisory only. However, information and expertise provided by the Natural Heritage Program is used in limited circumstances in the application of laws and regulations.
Endangered Species Act - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses information provided by the Natural Heritage Program in their Endangered Species Act listing and recovery decisions. Much of the information about locations and threats to species (particularly for plant species) originates with our program. WNHP scientists also serve on recovery technical teams because of their individual areas of expertise.
Growth Management Act - The Department of Ecology developed a model wetlands rating system for use by individual counties under the Growth Management Act. One factor that influences the assigned wetland category is whether or not there are priority species or ecosystems (as identified by WNHP and documented in our database) present.
Ecosystems management and restoration
Biological / ecological goals for land managers - The statewide system of natural areas provides an excellent point of reference for what individual ecosystems should look like. The individual natural areas have each been selected in large part because they are in good to excellent ecological condition. As such, they can be used as templates for good land stewardship. The information and expertise contained within our program is also available to help guide ecologically based decision-making.
WNHP has developed a number of products and the staff participates in various training and educational forums to help field biologists, planners, students, and others learn more about Washington’s rare plants, rare animals, and plant communities. Examples include:
  • Field guides to rare plants statewide and ecosystems in lowland western Washington are available on-line.
  • WNHP scientists and information managers give presentations at professional meetings and to conservation organizations.
Partners Meeting
The WNHP Partners Meeting is a forum for communication across Washington’s conservation organizations. Our intention in hosting this meeting is to bring our community together to strengthen our collective network, build connections that make us all more effective, and identify priorities that we can address together.