About Natural Areas

 

What is a natural area?

Prior to settlement, Arkansas was marked by an expansive mosaic of natural communities. In all, more than 40 different natural community types occurred across Arkansas's landscape. Since the 1800s, however, urban development, agriculture, fire suppression, and the spread of invasive plant species have destroyed or degraded many of these diverse ecosystems.

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) is charged with the responsibility of protecting the best of the last remaining vestiges of the state's natural communities. ANHC does this through its System of Natural Areas. Natural areas are lands specifically managed to preserve, and sometimes restore, natural communities that have become rare.

Natural areas are more than just a glimpse into the past. What these areas ultimately can provide are blueprints for understanding how Arkansas's diverse ecosystems originally functioned. Such information will be especially vital as Arkansas continues to develop and address important environmental issues into the future.                     

flower in front of flower field

 

Public Hunting Land in Arkansas

Specific forms of hunting are allowed on some natural areas. A cooperative agreement between ANHC and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) incorporated certain natural areas into AGFC's Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system. Every effort has been made by AGFC to provide maximum opportunity, maintain safety, protect healthy wildlife populations, and adhere to the conservation values inherent to ANHC's System of Natural Areas. Natural areas that are also considered AGFC WMAs will receive the same level of attention from AGFC enforcement staff as do other WMAs. Consequently, all applicable hunting regulations will be enforced on natural areas where hunting is allowed. Please make yourself aware of current AGFC hunting regulations before visiting a natural area. You can download a PDF of the current Arkansas Hunting Guidebook.

The AGFC has created a General Use WMA Permit required of anyone who hunts, traps, fishes, or boats on a WMA. The permit is free and can be obtained at any licensed vendor, by calling 800-364-4263, or visiting online. More information about the new permit can be found here.

Hunting on a Specific Natural Area

Below is a list of natural areas where hunting is permitted. Some natural areas have limited access, and it is the hunter's responsibility to obtain permission to access adjacent private landowner's property. Follow the natural area links below for directions and boundary and county locator maps. Please follow the WMA links (listed under each natural area) for specific hunting regulations, as the types of hunting allowed on each natural area varies.

Feral hogs have become a threat to land across the state, including properties within the System of Natural Areas. If you are interested in hunting feral hogs on natural areas, AGFC has developed special regulations for land in the WMA system. Visit the AGFC website for that information.

image of prescribed burn

Stewardship

The very concept of "natural areas" would seem to imply that these are places that should be left untouched. The reality is often just the opposite. Today, many natural areas exist as "islands" of natural habitat in a veritable "sea" of altered land. What happens, or in some cases, does not happen on surrounding lands can have a profound impact on the ecological integrity of natural areas.

As a result, we cannot simply fence these lands in and walk away. Long-term viability of remnant natural communities requires science-based conservation through active and sound management. In some cases, natural areas must undergo restoration to improve their overall condition.

The System of Natural Areas encompasses a wide range of natural communities and supports a rich diversity of animal and plant species. To protect these natural areas, management by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) is essential. Stewardship staff take methodical steps, based on sound scientific research, to restore ecosystem functions and maintain or enhance habitat conditions required to perpetuate rare species and natural communities. Work activities are conducted within the framework of a conservation vision and are guided by management plans specific to individual natural areas. Management plans are updated in a five-year review cycle and incorporate research findings and the results of proactive land management practices.

The foundation of stewardship work includes routine ground maintenance activities such as boundary demarcation, installation of appropriate signs, removal of trash, and establishing public access points. Where appropriate, staff also apply a variety of techniques to maintain or restore a site's ecological integrity. These techniques include non-native and/or invasive species control, timber stand management and prescribed burning. 

image of trees in forest