Natural Areas

Two Types of Natural Areas

DNR manages two different kinds of natural areas to conserve and restore special state-managed lands. 

Natural Area Preserves

Natural Area Preserves protect the best remaining examples of many ecological communities including rare plant and animal habitat. The DNR Natural Heritage Program identifies the highest quality, most ecologically important sites for protection as natural area preserves. The resulting network of preserves represents a legacy for future generations and helps ensure that blueprints of the state's natural ecosystems are protected forever. The preserve system presently includes more than 41,344 acres in 58 sites throughout the state. In eastern Washington, habitats protected on preserves include outstanding examples of arid land shrub-steppe, grasslands, vernal ponds, oak woodlands, subalpine meadows and forest, ponderosa pine forests and rare plant habitats. Western Washington preserves include several large coastal preserves supporting high quality wetlands, salt marshes and forested buffers. Other westside habitats include mounded prairies, sphagnum bogs, natural late-successional forests and grassland balds.

Natural Resources Conservation Areas

Natural Resource Conservation Areas protect outstanding examples of native ecosystems, habitat for endangered, threatened and sensitive plants and animals, and scenic landscapes. Environmental education and low-impact public use are appropriate on conservation areas where they do not impair the protected features. Critical habitat is conserved in NRCAs for many plant and animal species, including rare species. NRCAs include coastal and high elevation forests, alpine lakes, wetlands, scenic vistas, nesting birds of prey, rocky headlands and high-quality native plant communities. Conservation areas also protect geologic, cultural, historical, and archeological sites. More than 125,874 acres are conserved in 39 Washington State NRCAs.

Access Facilities at DNR Natural Areas

Many natural areas include access facilities such as trails or day use areas. Use DNR's statewide interactive recreation map to explore low-impact recreation and environmental education opportunities on DNR-managed natural resources conservation areas and natural area preserves. All DNR natural areas are available for approved scientific research and other environmental education activities. For more information about research and educational uses of DNR natural areas, contact the natural areas land managers or ecologists.