PNHP Natural Heritage Areas

The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program (PNHP) designates areas containing one or more plants or animals of concern at state or federal levels, exemplary natural communities, or exceptional native diversity as Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs). NHAs include both the immediate habitat and surrounding lands important in the support of these biological elements. Mapped according to their sensitivity to human activities, they are given one of two designations:

Core Habitat areas delineate essential habitat that cannot absorb significant levels of activity without substantial impact to the elements of concern.
Supporting Landscape areas maintain vital ecological processes or secondary habitat that may be able to accommodate some types of low-impact activities.

These NHAs have largely been developed through the County Natural Heritage Inventory (CNHI) effort undertaken by PNHP. County Natural Heritage Inventories (formally also called County Natural Area Inventories) have been systematic county-by-county studies of the critical biological resources of the state. CNHIs have focused primarily on species of concern—those plants, animals, natural communities, and habitats that face the greatest risk of extinction at the global or local level. These projects identify, map, and discuss areas that support species of concern, exemplary natural communities, and broad expanses of intact natural ecosystems that support components of Pennsylvania’s native species biodiversity. The inventories prioritize areas based on their ecological qualities and provide management and protection recommendations.

Conceived as tools to assist in planning, CNHIs have been used effectively to avoid the accidental destruction of habitats that supporting species of concern at both the county and municipal levels. CNHIs have been incorporated into comprehensive plans, consulted to plan development projects, and used by conservation organizations to prioritize their work. Additionally, these studies have helped guide the development of recreational amenities, promotion of tourism industries, and assistance in community development. CNHIs have also served as a primary source for much of the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) permit review data. By providing information on sensitive environmental features early in the planning process—when adjustments can be made with little cost or delay—CNHIs streamline economic- and infrastructure-development projects.

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