To administer the New Hampshire Native Plant Protection Act (RSA 217-A), the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau collects and analyzes data on the status, location, and distribution of native plant species and natural communities in the state. In addition, the Natural Heritage Bureau develops and implements measures for the protection, conservation, enhancement, and management of native
The NH Natural Heritage Bureau Has Three Facets
- Inventory involves collecting information on new and known locations of rare species and natural communities. We currently study more than 600 plant and animal species and more than 250 communities and systems. Surveys on private lands are conducted only with landowner permission.
- Tracking is the management of information about rare species, exemplary natural communities, and exemplary natural community systems. Our database – the most comprehensive biodiversity resource for New Hampshire – currently contains information about more than 5,100 plant, animal, natural community, and system occurrences in New Hampshire. We can easily retrieve this information in a variety of formats for landowners, land managers, and planners.
- Interpretation is the analysis and communication of Natural Heritage Bureau information. This includes classifying the different types of natural communities in NH, and identification of management and stewardship needs of elements of New Hampshire biodiversity. Our goal is to cooperate with public and private land managers to help them protect rare species populations and exemplary natural communities and systems. We respond to more than 1,500 information requests each year.
We Find And Protect New Hampshire's Distinctive Natural Heritage
Since our inception in the mid 1980s, we have discovered and helped interested landowners protect many unusual features of the New Hampshire landscape. For example:
We discovered North America's oldest living hardwood tree in Rockingham County, NH. This 684-year-old black gum started growing when people still thought the sun revolved around the earth. It is 117 years older than New Hampshire's previous champion, a 567-year-old black gum in the same region. Excitement about the tree is leading to the protection of other ancient trees nearby.
We are working with landowners throughout southern New Hampshire to protect one of the Northeast's rarest orchids – the small whorled pogonia. New Hampshire supports more populations of this federally endangered wildflower than any other state, so the orchid's survival depends on interested New Hampshire landowners.
Biodiversity Comes in Many Different Forms
Our database is the most comprehensive biodiversity tracking system for New Hampshire. We find and catalogue three components of the state’s biodiversity.
- Natural Communities: Natural communities are different types of forests, wetlands, grasslands, etc. – formally defined as assemblages of plants and animals that recur in predictable patterns across the landscape under similar physical conditions. Most of the New Hampshire landscape is covered by relatively common natural community types. Scattered throughout the state, however, and usually in predictable areas, are distinctive natural communities found in few other places.
The NH Natural Heritage Bureau tracks "exemplary" natural community occurrences. To qualify as exemplary, a natural community in a given place must be of a rare type, such as a pitch pine - scrub oak woodland, or must be an exceptional example of a common type, such as an old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest.
Particular sets of natural communities co-occur in the landscape and are linked by a common set of driving forces, such as landforms, flooding, soils, and nutrient regime. These are referred to as natural community systems. Systems are at an appropriate scale for many conservation applications, including mapping and predictive modeling, correspondence to wildlife and wildlife habitats, and as direct conservation targets in conservation planning.
- Rare Plant Species: The NH Natural Heritage Bureau tracks the state's rarest and most imperiled plant species. We have identified these plants in cooperation with researchers, conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, and knowledgeable amateur botanists. We obtain plant locations from sources including herbarium specimens (some dating from the late 1800s), personal contacts, the scientific literature, and through extensive field research.
- Rare Animal Species: The NH Natural Heritage Bureau tracks rare animal species in cooperation with the Nongame & Endangered Wildlife Program of the NH Fish & Game Department. The Nongame Program has identified these species in cooperation with researchers, conservation organizations such as the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, knowledgeable amateur biologists, and the NH Natural Heritage Bureau. Wildlife locations were obtained from sources including museum specimens, personal contacts, the scientific literature, and through extensive field research.
We Are Still Exploring New Hampshire
One of the myths we frequently encounter is that we know where everything is. New Hampshire has not been comprehensively surveyed, however, so there are still many ecologically significant features that remain undiscovered. This means that we often cannot tell a landowner whether or not something rare is on their property, although there usually isn’t. It also means that rare plant and animal populations may be lost even when it would have been easy to save them . . . if we knew they were there.
Our ecologists spend each spring, summer, and fall searching the state for new rare plants and natural communities. In addition to building our already extensive database, we are improving our understanding of how and where these rarities live in the landscape, and how they may or may not be affected by human activities.
As we continue our search for new rare species and exemplary natural communities, we frequently ask private landowners for permission to visit their land. Our visits are usually brief, always unobtrusive, and sometimes yield interesting discoveries.
We undertake surveys on private properties only with landowner permission.
We Are Part of an International Network of Natural Heritage Programs
NH Heritage is a member of NatureServe, a non-profit organization that ties together Natural Heritage Programs (Network Directory) in all 50 states, many Canadian provinces, and several Latin and South American countries. Through NatureServe, NH Heritage receives information on the range wide status of plants, animals, and natural communities. This information allows us to place New Hampshire’s rarities in a broader context, and thereby better inform land management decisions.
Natural Heritage Programs grew out of The Nature Conservancy, which in the early 1970s began developing a network of programs that would scientifically study and track biodiversity. In the ensuing years, the Conservancy worked with public agencies and a wide variety of organizations to set up Natural Heritage Programs throughout the United States and abroad.
In New Hampshire, The Nature Conservancy and NH Office of State Planning proposed the creation of a natural heritage program in 1981. By 1986, NH Heritage was officially established in the Department of Resources & Economic Development through Chapter 195 ("An Act Relative to a Natural Heritage Inventory"), as the NH Natural Heritage Inventory. The program’s purpose was to identify, designate, and preserve rare plant and animal species and geologic formations that constitute the natural heritage of New Hampshire. The program was administered with assistance from a committee composed of The Nature Conservancy, NH Office of State Planning, Society for the Protection of NH Forests, Audubon Society of NH, NH Association of Conservation Commissions, NH Fish & Game Department, and the NH Division of Forests & Lands.
When the Native Plant Protection Act (RSA 217-A) was passed in 1987, NH Heritage assumed responsibility for its mandates and began formally developing a database of rare plant, rare animal, and exemplary natural community occurrences throughout the state. In 1993, NH Heritage was moved into the Division of Forests & Lands, where it has flourished. In 2002 the program officially gained the status of a Bureau within the Division, and its official name changed accordingly, to the NH Natural Heritage Bureau.
Biodiversity in New Hampshire