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The Natural Heritage Inventory Program operates under authority of the Rare Plant Protection and Conservation Act of 1985, and the Rare Plant Protection and Conservation Regulations. The Program maintains a GIS database with information on the distribution and ecology of rare plants, animals and ecological communities across Tennessee. The Program uses Heritage Methodology - based on that of its parent organization NatureServe - for the most recent taxonomic information, ecological community classification, methodology, and software development. The database currently contains over 14,000 rare species and plant community occurrence records as well as information on hundreds of conservation sites. Information gathered by program biologists, assists in directing conservation, restoration, and management activities of other programs in the Division.

Through the Natural Heritage Inventory Program, the Department of Environment and Conservation publishes the state’s rare plant list. The ability to legally list plants as Threatened, Endangered, and Special Concern is granted by the Rare Plant Protection and Conservation Act of 1985.  The program also publishes a list of the rare animals of Tennessee, but the legal listing of animals as Threatened, Endangered, or Deemed in Need of Management is handled by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. 

To view available data, forms, information on environmental review procedures, and publications resulting from Natural Heritage Inventory Program work click here.

The Division uses information from the Program and other sources for various conservation initiatives including identifying areas for inclusion in the Natural Areas System.  Rare species data are also used by state, federal and local governments for conducting environmental reviews. Natural Heritage Program staff direct and conduct field surveys of species, natural communities, and natural areas of special concern.  Staff also conduct workshops and provide technical assistance to state and federal agencies, local governments, private conservation groups, and industrial and private landowners, for use in the management of their lands. The Program issues scientific collecting permits for research on state parks and state natural areas, and issues rare plant dealer licenses.

The Rare Plant Protection and Conservation Act of 1985 also allows the Division to enter into agreements with other agencies “with respect to programs designed to conserve rare plants. . .” A formal cooperative agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State establishes the Division as the lead state agency in the process of listing and recovery efforts for federally endangered or threatened species of plants.  Independent of this agreement, the Program also conducts U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-funded projects to conserve and protect federal concern animal species.  Through extensive field investigations, research and management activities, the Division seeks to prevent imperiled species of plants and animals from becoming further imperiled, to effect the recovery of federally listed species so that they may be de-listed, and to prevent the extirpation of critically imperiled species. 

Roger McCoy
Coordinator, Natural Heritage Inventory Program
(615) 532-0437
[email protected]