Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC)

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) works to conserve the state’s natural diversity and is charged with the responsibilities of 1) establishing and protecting the Arkansas System of Natural Areas; 2) collecting and maintaining information on the rare plant, animal, and high-quality natural communities of Arkansas; and 3) providing data and information regarding the natural diversity of Arkansas. Original legislation in Acts 297 of 1971 and 112 of 1973 spurred the creation of the ANHC.

In 1971, Act 297 charged the Arkansas Planning Commission with establishing a system for the preservation of natural areas and with providing for the inventory, acquisition, and protection of such areas. The department developed a plan for meeting these goals, the Arkansas Natural Area Plan, but it lacked funding to put the plan into action. In 1973, under the leadership of Governor Dale Bumpers, Act 112 established the Arkansas Environmental Preservation Commission to implement the Arkansas Natural Area Plan. The agency was renamed the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission in 1975 when it became an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH), now the Division of Arkansas Heritage, part of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. In 1997, the Arkansas General Assembly transferred the duties of the Arkansas Natural and Scenic Rivers Commission (ANSRC) to the ANHC, after the dissolution of the ANSRC by Act 1023.

The professional staff of the ANHC is dedicated to acquisitions, research, public outreach, and natural area stewardship. The commission is made up of fifteen members. Nine are appointed by the governor for staggered terms of nine years each. In addition, the president pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate appoints three members, and the speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives appoints three members. These six commissioners are not term limited and may change as the makeup of the Arkansas General Assembly changes. The commission provides general direction to ANHC professional staff, acts on staff proposals for acquiring and dedicating natural areas, establishes rules and regulations, and adopts and amends management plans for individual natural areas.

The ANHC maintains the System of Natural Areas, which consists of lands specifically managed to preserve, and sometimes restore, natural communities that are now rare. The system protects more than 71,000 acres of ecologically important land around the state. Lands within the System of Natural Areas represent some of the best, and last, remaining examples of many of the state’s original natural communities. Once an area is designated a natural area, ANHC staff work to maintain the unique characteristics of that area. The goals of natural area stewardship are to restore and enhance conditions for rare species and to maintain the ecological integrity of these natural communities.

One of the most basic ways to protect natural communities and rare species is to determine their location and status. To accomplish this, the ANHC maintains the Arkansas Natural Heritage Inventory. This dynamic database tracks the precise location and status of rare species, along with the location and condition of natural communities throughout the state. ANHC staff utilizes information from the database to identify Arkansas’s most intact natural communities, as well as to locate rare species and their required habitat. This information is provided to other governmental agencies, consulting firms, corporations, researchers, and students. Although much of the data are technical, educational resources are designed to be interesting and easy to understand and serve as a critical link between the ANHC and the general public.

As of 2021, the Natural Heritage Inventory contains more than 22,000 site-specific records of occurrence for rare plants, animals, and high-quality natural communities across the state. Using a nationally standardized methodology, staff update and add new information to this database from a variety of sources. Information is gathered from herbaria, museums, scientific publications, research studies, and field surveys conducted by ANHC staff. Data from the inventory are used by ANHC staff members in the review of specific project-related impacts through the state environmental review process. Examples include commercial and residential developments, transportation projects, utility construction, landfills, mining, and flood control projects. Data are also provided to private developers and public land use planners to notify them of the location of rare species or biologically sensitive areas early in the planning process.

For additional information:
Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. (accessed February 22, 2022).

Smith, Kenneth L., et al. Arkansas’s Natural Heritage. Little Rock: August House, 1984.

Jonelle Doughty and Ruthie Berryhill
Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission


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