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 website will make it easier to use them and share data from them. The website 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.
Until now there has not been a central location for people seeking information on RNAs in the southeastern U.S. The new website 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 website also includes information on obtaining permission to carry out a study on an RNA or scheduling a field trip for students.
The website 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 websites, and other federal, state and non-governmental organizations’ natural areas websites.
Margaret Devall, SRS research ecologist emerita, and Mary Long, regional conservation planer at the Forest Service Southern Region, developed the website content together and are the RNA liaisons for SRS and the Region.