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Natural Areas Registry

From river basin swamps and tidal marshes to chenier woodlands, pine savannas, and coastal prairies, Louisiana’s natural areas provide critical services and resources to both humans and wildlife. However, Louisiana's landscape is rapidly changing due to conversion of forests to agriculture, accelerated loss of coastal wetlands, expansion of suburban and commercial development, energy extraction, and other factors. Today, only a small fraction of this land remains in its near original condition, and many plant and animal species are now rare or imperiled. What remains of Louisiana's natural heritage needs our help to ensure its continued existence.

Through the Natural Areas Registry Program, part of LDWF’s Wildlife Diversity Program, we locate the best examples of what’s left of our natural areas and work with landowners to restore and protect them. The registry encourages voluntary, citizen-based conservation of natural areas on state and federally-owned lands as well as properties owned by private companies or individuals. 

How does the registry protect natural areas?

Species and natural communities are often destroyed or lost because landowners are often unaware of their presence or do not have the means or knowledge to properly manage them. Potential registry properties are typically identified when a landowner contacts Wildlife Diversity Program staff or when Wildlife Diversity Program staff review aerial imagery or location information provided on historical museum specimens. Once a property has been identified, a registry representative contacts the landowner to discuss the special plants, animals, or natural communities found on their property. Informing landowners of the importance of these resources minimizes the risk of significant natural areas being inadvertently destroyed. By registering their property, landowners not only learn more about the unique flora and fauna present on their property but also what management techniques are best suited to maintain these elements. Natural areas must be managed using specific guidelines to conserve or restore natural communities and wildlife.

How does an area qualify for the registry?

To be eligible for the registry, a property must contain at least one of the following natural values:

  • Habitat for native plants or animals with rare or declining populations in Louisiana
  • Plant communities characteristic of the native vegetation of Louisiana
  • Outstanding natural features such as old growth forests or wetlands.

In addition, sites that historically contained any of the above listed natural values but have become degraded over time may be eligible for inclusion if the property is being actively managed to restore and enhance these natural values.

What does registering property require the landowner to do?

By registering their property, landowners agree to:

  • Protect the area and its unique natural elements to the best of their abilities
  • Notify a registry representative of any threats to the area or the plants and animals located within the natural area
  • Notify a registry representative of an intent to sell or transfer ownership of the area

Every year, a registry representative will contact the landowner to determine whether conditions have changed or new concerns have developed.

Participation in the registry is voluntary; a property will never be added to the registry without landowner consent. In addition, registration of property is publicized only if the landowner approves. Directions to the site are never published, and registration provides no rights of public access.

Is registration legally binding?

No. Registration simply expresses a landowner's sincere intention to protect certain natural elements of state and national significance. It is not legally binding and does not subject the property to any new regulatory authority. Either party may cancel registration at any time, although 30 days notice is requested. If there is an event that reduces the site's ecological value, LDWF may remove it from the registry.

What benefits does registration offer the landowner?

The registry honors and recognizes owners of outstanding natural areas for their commitment to the continued protection of Louisiana’s natural heritage. Registry participants receive a framed certificate bearing their name and the name of the registered area.

The following services are also available to registry participants, free of charge:

  • Annual ecological check-up on the health of the plants, animals, or habitat of special concern
  • Preparation of a management plan, if needed, to ensure the continued health of the natural area
  • Consultation on how to protect the area should a transfer of ownership or other change become necessary
  • Quarterly newsletter with information on the registry and featured habitats and species found throughout Louisiana
  • Information on federal and state cost-share funding programs.

Are there any financial incentives to registering a property?

There are a variety of dedication methods that can offer tax benefits to participating landowners. Contact Chris Doffitt at cdoffitt@wlf.la.gov or 318.487.5885 for more information. 

How can I permanently protect my land? 

If you’d like to protect your land in perpetuity, you can pursue a conservation servitude with LDWF. A conservation servitude is a detailed legal agreement that:

  • Identifies the conservation values on a property
  • Prescribes targeted restrictions on use and development that would threaten those conservation values
  • Defines allowed uses that are consistent with their protection.

For more information, review the Conservation Servitude Overview and contact Chris Doffitt at cdoffitt@wlf.la.gov or 318.487.5885.

What does it mean to manage my natural area?

Registry representatives assess your property, considering factors such as surface geology, soils, topography, hydrology, and geographic location to determine:

  • The natural community or habitat type that was originally present on your property
  • If that community or habitat type is still present
  • How to maintain or promote the natural integrity of the ecosystem that was historically or is currently on your property.

Based on this assessment, they recommend specific, individualized management practices to retain the natural character of the property and ensure long?term survival of natural heritage resources.

The following general management guidelines can be applied to any natural area. Keep in mind that these are only general guidelines—specific management recommendations (mentioned above) require on-site interpretation and application by professional biologists or ecologists.

  • Maintain or restore historical natural community composition and structure. 
  • Do not convert natural forests to commercial plantation forests. 
  • Do not convert natural prairies or grasslands to food plots or agricultural plantings.
  • Avoid disturbing groundcover. 
  • Do not intentionally eliminate species indigenous to a site. Instead, support a full natural balance of species that would be expected at that given site.
  • If timber removal is necessary, duplicate the natural disturbance regimes under which our forest systems evolved.
  • Natural disturbances are small?scale events that typically affect tracts of land from less than an acre to a few acres. Uneven?aged management such as single?tree or small group selection best duplicates these events. 
  • Consider surrounding landscape conditions when formulating management plans. If this tract supports an indigenous habitat type missing from the general landscape (e.g., shortleaf pine?hardwood forests, longleaf pine forests, or older natural forests), it is important to maintain this condition on as much of the tract as possible. 
  • Edge habitat is not utopia for all wildlife. While most early successional species prosper when edge is introduced, plants and animals adapted to forest interior conditions are frequently unable to use edge habitat. It is important to maintain large blocks of mature natural forest for these species.
  • Maintain old?growth natural forests and emergent trees where possible. 
  • Fire is a critical component when maintaining or restoring many natural community types; use prescribed fire as appropriate for different ecosystems. Some recommended fire intervals are:
    • Coastal prairies, calcareous prairies: once every 1 to 3 years 
    • Longleaf pine and associated communities: once every 1 to 3 years 
    • Shortleaf pine?hardwood forest: once every 5 to 15 years 
    • Mixed hardwood?loblolly forest: once every 20 to 40 years. 
  • Use growing season fires when possible. Our natural ecosystems evolved under a regime of fires started by lightning strikes, primarily in the spring and summer months. Apply most fires in the spring, between mid?April to late June. Growing?season fires can be rotated with dormant?season fires.
  • Avoid using ring (or circular) fires, if possible, as this technique may trap organisms in the fire.
  • Use natural fire breaks such as streams, branch bottoms, or other embedded wetland breaks. By avoiding or minimizing the use of plowed fire lines, you minimize erosion and soil movement, and maintain the natural integrity of your property.
  • Do not mechanically or chemically disturb unique areas (e.g., bogs, seeps, ephemeral ponds, prairies or forests on calcareous clays, glades, shortleaf pine, and longleaf pine) that may be present.
  • Do not disturb stream?side zones. Do not disturb steep slopes above streams. 
  • Maintain or restore historical hydrologic patterns when possible. 
  • Practice state?of?the?art prevention, detection, and control of southern pine beetle and other problematic species.
  • Monitor for rare species and habitats found on your property and work with the Wildlife Diversity Program to devise specialized management for these species and habitats.
  • Retain snags and low?vigor or damaged trees within the stand. They are a component of natural forests and are important for various ecological reasons. 
  • Retain large, downed woody material such as rotting logs—a tree has only fulfilled a portion of its ecological function in a forest at the time it dies and decomposes. Dead and decomposing woody debris provide habitat for terrestrial vertebrates and invertebrates and fungi that are used as a food source by other organisms in the community.
  • Control or remove aggressive nonnative plant species such as Japanese honeysuckle, privet?hedge, Chinese tallow tree, and Japanese climbing fern (bridle?veil fern). Careful use of appropriate herbicides may be necessary to manage these invasive species.