About Us

 
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Since 1973, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) has been working to conserve Arkansas’s natural landscape. ANHC’s professional staff conducts on-the-ground field surveys to locate and evaluate occurrences of natural communities and rare, threatened, and endangered species. Research findings and results are often published in scientific journals and presented at national, regional and state forums. This information is organized, analyzed, managed, and housed in the Arkansas Heritage Program biodiversity database. These field surveys and research projects have provided a wealth of information on more than 900 rare species that can be used to evaluate the relative imperilment of native species and shared for environmental planning purposes. We provide data to organizations and individuals involved with Arkansas conservation efforts, economic development, scientific research and education.

Based on sound scientific research, ANHC evaluates the state’s ecologically important sites to set priorities for conservation in the System of Natural Areas. Stewardship of these lands requires proven techniques to preserve and sometimes restore unique and diverse ecosystems. On the ground, public access to natural areas varies as some have terrain that could be treacherous. While only a few areas contain developed trails, several are perfectly suited to low impact activities such as hiking and bird-watching. Many natural areas offer hunting opportunities according to regulations established in cooperation with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

ANHC’s public outreach efforts strive to make information on biodiversity interesting, easy to find, and easy to understand. Educational programming is often offered to teachers and students to address state and national science standards using Arkansas-specific information. Our goal is to provide an introduction to the natural treasures that are the heritage of every citizen in Arkansas.

To fulfill these responsibilities, ANHC employs a professional staff dedicated to protecting our state’s natural diversity.

Birth of the System of Natural Areas

Following its establishment in 1973, ANHC began to incorporate sites into its System of Natural Areas. Singer Forest Natural Area was Arkansas’s first natural area and was donated to ANHC by the Singer Company in 1973. Roth Prairie, located in Arkansas County, was the first natural area purchased by ANHC. It was acquired on July 23, 1976.

Data from the Arkansas Heritage Program has enabled the commission to make choices based upon scientific data. Many early acquisitions concentrated on small tracts to protect habitats of certain rare animals and plants. Near the White River in Stone County, Hell Creek Natural Area supports one of the only known populations of the federally endangered Hell Creek crayfish (Cambarus zophonastes). Warren Prairie Natural Area was acquired in 1983 and is one of only a handful of sites in the world where the federally threatened plant geocarpon (Geocarpon minimum) grows. The small parcel that started out as Warren Prairie Natural Area has now grown to more than 4,000 acres.

 

Reconnecting Landscapes

From the mid-1980s to the present, ANHC has focused on larger and more complex projects. In 2010, conservation partnerships with other governmental agencies, non-profits, and private industry advanced a large-scale conservation effort. Warren Prairie Natural Area was expanded when The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a non-profit organization, sold 2,107 acres to ANHC. TNC initially purchased the property from Plum Creek Timber Company. ANHC's funding came from a U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Grant administered by the Arkansas Forestry Commission. The grant, worth more than $2 million, was matched by ANHC primarily through the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, which is funded by the state’s real estate transfer tax. 

The site will remain a working forest, meaning it will continue to provide local forestry jobs and forest products to local mills. The Commission will work with Plum Creek Timber Company, which once owned the land, and with TNC and contractors to ecologically thin overly dense pine stands at the property. Overly dense forests prevent sunlight from reaching the ground, which results in few plant species on the forest floor and in turn affects wildlife diversity and populations. Controlled burns will also be used to restore dense pine stands to open, natural timberlands with abundant plant and wildlife diversity. 

Another example of large-scale conservation partnerships in action is Cossatot River State Park - Natural Area. Managed cooperatively with Arkansas State Parks (ASP), this 4,470-acre natural area was acquired in 16 different transactions between 1987 and 1993. It protects 11 miles of the Cossatot River and the unique communities found within an upland Ouachita Mountains stream. Because of the cooperative approach to managing this natural area, portions of the area have been developed to enhance environmental education opportunities and public visitation.