New Research Natural Areas Webpage

Facilitating Research & Education on Network of Protected Lands

Gap Creek RNA.
The Gap Creek Research Natural Area in Arkansas. Photo by Ed Lawson, USFS, retired.

Within our national forests lies a network of protected ecosystems that are designated for non-manipulative research, educational purposes, or for maintaining biological diversity.

These areas are called Research Natural Areas, or RNAs, and a new webpage will make it easier to use them and share data from them. The webpage is a joint effort of the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, the Southern Region (R8), and the San Dimas Technology and Development Center.

Research Natural Areas are permanently protected and kept under natural conditions as much as possible. They include exceptional ecosystems or ecological features and rare or endangered plants or animals as well as select examples of more common ecosystems.

Research or monitoring of RNAs can provide valuable comparisons as reference states to managed lands. The RNA network in Region 8 is currently made up of 33 RNAs across 13 national forests as well as several candidate RNAs in various stages of establishment.

Historic photo of Bee Branch RNA.
Long before 1962 when the Bee Branch Research Natural Area in AL was established, people admired the ancient beech trees there. Currently, the area is home to rare old growth hemlock-beech stands. USFS photo.

Until now there has not been a central location for people seeking information on RNAs in the southeastern U.S. The new webpage provides a wide range of information materials including information about the nationwide program, a section on each southeastern RNA, establishment records, and a list of publications and reports on research conducted on RNAs. The webpage also includes information on obtaining permission to carry out a study on an RNA or scheduling a field trip for students.

The webpage also includes an interactive map that provides data on RNAs by name, state, or ranger district. One can also search for RNAs with specific flora, fauna, at-risk plant and animal species, or old growth forests. A quick-start user guide facilitates use of the map.

In addition, there is a section on RNA guidance, use, and establishment criteria. There is a section on applying to use southeastern RNAs with a downloadable application form for RNA use and information on where to send the application. There are also links to Forest Service Southern Region and SRS contacts, as well other Forest Service RNA webpages, and other federal, state and non-governmental organizations’ natural areas webpages.

Margaret Devall, SRS research ecologist emerita, and Mary Long, regional conservation planer at the Forest Service Southern Region, developed the webagee content together and are the RNA liaisons for SRS and the Region.

Visit the Research Natural Areas webpage.

For more information, email Margaret Devall at or Mary Long at

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.