WakeNature Preserves Partnership


Nature Preserves Definitions & Criteria
Approved 2009 Sept 3
Amended 2010 Dec 10 to reflect process used for first WakeNature Preserve:


SUMMARY (The short, plain-English version)

This document defines (a) WakeNature Preserves and (b) Wake Natural Wonders.

A WakeNature Preserve is a natural area within Wake County that contains high-quality examples of plant and animal populations, natural communities, landscapes, or ecosystems. It is to be bounded, dedicated, and managed to ensure the long-term conservation of those natural resources and to provide people with the opportunity to experience and learn about those resources in a contemplative, natural setting.

A WakeNatural Wonder is a natural feature or habitat within Wake County that is highlighted for the development and growth of public awareness about Wake County's natural heritage and systems and their importance to environmental health, biodiversity, and quality of life. Although ideally managed for long-term persistence, WakeNatural Wonders that are not within WakeNature Preserves are not accorded the same high level of protection accorded WakeNature Preserves.



WakeNature Preserves

Definition:
A WakeNature Preserve ...
  • is a high quality natural area that preserves the biodiversity of the region by contributing to the long-term viability of plant and animal populations, natural communities, landscapes, or ecosystems
  • contains at least one exceptional or outstanding natural feature (see Nature Preserve Categories below)
  • is owned and managed for the long-term (preferably permanent) conservation of the natural resources contained therein
  • has a management plan that addresses the elements outlined in WakeNature's management plan template
  • has been approved, and is subject to periodic review for continued designation, as a WakeNature Preserve by WakeNature Preserves Partnership or another body designated by the Partnership
  • is identified as a WakeNature Preserve with signage and branding that is consistent County-wide
  • meets one or more of the Objectives described below


Objectives:
WakeNature Preserves are at their highest and best use by serving one or more of the following public purposes:

  1. Provide habitat for the survival of rare plants or animals or natural communities or other significant biological features.
  2. Provide long-term (preferably permanent), contiguous, undeveloped natural lands to conserve open space and create wildlife corridors within urbanizing areas.
  3. Provide small habitat areas within more densely developed areas that can act as "stepping stones" between larger protected habitat areas.
  4. Provide sites for scientific research and examples for scientific comparison with more disturbed sites.
  5. Provide sites for educational activities and places where people may observe natural resources and environmental systems.
  6. Provide opportunities for contemplation or outdoor passive recreation compatible with the protection of the natural features.
  7. Could contribute to the development and growth of public understanding of natural systems, the interdependence of all forms of life, and the vital dependence of human communities on the health of natural communities.


Boundaries:
WakeNature Preserve boundaries are drawn, using best-available research, to
(a) maximize the probability that the resource(s) being protected will persist for the long term and
(b) ensure that people who visit the Preserve have a high-quality experience commensurate with the resource(s) being protected.


WakeNatural Wonders

A WakeNatural Wonder ...
  • is a natural feature or habitat within Wake County (including but not limited to within WakeNature Preserves, county or municipal parks, other protected open space or natural areas) that is highlighted for the development and growth of public awareness about Wake County's natural heritage and ecosystems and their importance to environmental health, biodiversity, and quality of life
  • is managed for long-term persistence
  • has been approved, and is subject to periodic review for continued designation, as a WakeNatural Wonder by WakeNature Preserves Partnership or another body designated by the Partnership
  • is identified as a WakeNatural Wonder with signage and branding that is consistent County-wide



NATURE PRESERVE CATEGORIES

We suggest that all land and water in candidate Nature Preserves be mapped into one of five categories as the management plan for the preserve is created:
1. Exceptional Natural Features
2. Outstanding Natural Features
3. Other Natural Features
4. Cultural or Historic Features
5. Support Areas


Category 1: Exceptional Natural Features

Definition:
Features of the highest natural heritage value, including uncommon, threatened, or endangered species, or high quality communities, particularly as defined by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program’s Significant Natural Heritage Areas (SNHA) and Natural Heritage Element Occurrences (NHEO).

Management Priorities:
1. Management, monitoring, and scientific study to preserve or restore the area's ecological integrity and natural heritage values.

2. For all Exceptional Natural Features, the development and implementation of management plans are recommended.

Preserve Alterations:
1. Alterations must be compatible with the preservation, interpretation and management of ecological features and natural resources.

2. Alterations shall be restricted to the smallest area necessary to accommodate required development and use and to minimize environmental impacts.

3. Evaluate existing trails and determine if trails that could negatively affect exceptional or outstanding natural feature should be restored, closed, or moved.

4. Service roads (natural surface or stone surface) for management purposes should be constructed only minimally.

5. New trails should be avoided. If unavoidable, biological surveys should be conducted early in planning process to minimize effects on sensitive natural resources. Natural and stone trail surfaces are preferred to impervious surfaces, consistent with the sensitivity of the site and the laws and policies of the managing jurisdiction.

6. A buffer should be maintained around Exceptional Natural Features to protect them from adjacent land uses.

Public Access:
Recommend offering guided tours and discouraging unsupervised public access, consistent with the sensitivity of the site and the laws and policies of the managing jurisdiction.


Category 2: Outstanding Natural Features

Definition:
Areas exhibiting a significant diversity of flora, fauna, or natural communities. These areas will be determined by the presence of regionally rare species, a Landscape Habitat Indicator Guild Core Area, or a high quality priority habitat type or habitat known to support priority species listed in the NC Wildlife Action Plan.

Management Priorities:
1. Management, monitoring, and scientific study to preserve or restore the area's ecological integrity and natural heritage values.

2. For all Outstanding Natural Features, the development and implementation of management plans are recommended.

3. Provide public access that will not adversely affect the integrity of the natural features and ecological processes.

Preserve Alterations:
1-4 same as under Exceptional Natural Features

5. Pedestrian trails, interpretive areas, and interpretive signage should be provided for educational and passive recreational purposes. Natural and stone trail surfaces are preferred to impervious surfaces, consistent with the sensitivity of the site and the laws and policies of the managing jurisdiction.

6. A buffer should be maintained around Outstanding Natural Features to protect them from adjacent land uses.

Public Access:
Recommend designs intended to limit people to trails and interpretive areas.


Category 3: Other Natural Features

Definition:
Open spaces that buffer Exceptional and Outstanding Natural Features from adjacent or upstream land uses, connect outstanding or exceptional natural features, or include priority habitats listed in the NC Wildlife Action Plan that have been degraded but are thought to be restorable to a higher quality with long-term management.

Management Priorities:
1. Management, monitoring, and scientific study to preserve or restore the area's ecological integrity and natural heritage values.

2. Provide public access that will not adversely affect the integrity of the natural features and ecological processes.

3. Provide facilities for environmental education.

Preserve alterations:
1-3 same as under Exceptional Natural Features

4. Service roads (any surface material) can be constructed for management purposes.

5. Non-motorized, multi-use trails (any surface material) with interpretive signage for educational and passive recreational purposes.

6. Nature centers, observation decks and towers, and supporting infrastructure compatible with the interpretation of natural resources and ecological processes.

7. Picnic tables, composting toilets, primitive campsites, and associated low-impact facilities consistent with conservation of the resource being protected.

Public Access: Not restricted.


Category 4: Cultural and Historic Features

Definition: Features of cultural and historic significance, including but not limited to properties listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Management Priorities:
1. Preservation, protection, and interpretation of cultural and historic features.

2. Provide public access that will not adversely affect the integrity of the cultural or historic features.

Alterations:
1. Alterations must be compatible with the preservation, interpretation and management of cultural and historic features.

2. Alterations shall be restricted to the smallest area necessary to accommodate required development and use and to minimize environmental impacts.

3. Evaluate existing trails and determine if they should be restored, closed, or moved.

4. Restoration of cultural and historic features

5. Non-motorized, multi-use trails (any surface material) with interpretive signage for educational and passive recreational purposes.

6. Service roads for management purposes.


Category 5: Support Area

Definition: Areas where appropriate facility development is permitted to support maintenance and public access associated with the Nature Preserve.

Management Priority: Facility maintenance and management.

Alterations:
1-2 same as under Exceptional Natural Area

3. Motorized uses, paved roadways, parking lots, maintenance facilities, restrooms, operational support buildings, boat access, fishing piers, picnic shelters, utility easements.



Definitions (in context of this document)

North Carolina Natural Heritage Program (NCNHP) – A program within the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources that inventories, catalogues, and supports conservation of the rarest and the most outstanding elements of the natural diversity of our state.

Natural Heritage Areas (NHNA) – Terrestrial or aquatic sites that are of special biodiversity significance as defined by NCNHP. A site’s significance may be due to the presence of rare species, rare or high quality natural communities, or other important ecological features. A geographic information system coverage of NHNA is maintained and distributed by NCNHP and is updated quarterly.

Natural Heritage Element Occurrences (NHEO) - Occurrences of rare plants and animals, exemplary or unique natural communities, and important animal assemblages as tracked and documented by NCNHP. Collectively, these plants, animals, natural communities, and animal assemblages are referred to as "elements of natural diversity" or simply as "elements." Specific occurrences of these elements are referred to as "element occurrences" or simply "Eos." Geographic information system coverages of NHEO are maintained and distributed by NCNHP and are updated quarterly.

Landscape/Habitat Indicator Guild (LHI) - Groups of species that share the same response to
particular types of landscape change, in this case, in response to habitat fragmentation. Members of a particular guild include different taxa.

LHI Core landscape/habitat areas - Documented presence of high quality guild occurrences, i.e.
specific areas having a significant concentration of guild members. Either due to their large size
or interconnectedness, these areas are capable of supporting viable ecosystems associated with
particular habitat type. Core landscape/habitat areas for different guilds can overlap or closely
adjoin one another.

Biological surveys – Field surveys conducted by experienced personnel during suitable times of the year to document the flora and fauna present in a given region.

Buffer – Ecologically influential areas that do not contain conservation targets but are strategically placed to protect sensitive ecological areas from impacts such as polllution, noise, light, and other disturbance.

NC Wildlife Action Plan (WAP) - Developed in compliance with a US Congressional mandate and completed in 2005, this plan is the state Wildlife Resource Commission’s blueprint for fish and wildlife conservation statewide for the next half century, calling for the protection of a wide array of aquatic and terrestrial species and their associated habitats. Within the plan, species are prioritized based on a variety of conservation goals.

Open Space – Natural lands that are conserved to fulfill ecological functions. Open Space is a term that is used to describe lands expected to perform a broad array of ecosystem services such as maintain water quality, air quality, absorb floodwaters as well as referring to lands used for agriculture, timberland, to provide recreational opportunities, or have a cultural value (Triangle Land Conservancy State of Open Space 2002).


Note: Add visual diagram of each in later version (i.e. map of natural categories and buffer, SNHA etc.)