Seeking Feedback From Chatham Landowners on Natural Areas Inventory

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Lower Haw River State Natural Area.

Lower Haw River State Natural Area. Photo by Mike Dunn.

The author thanks the following contributors to this article: Merry Conlin, Brandon Dawson, and Allison Weakley

The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program (NCNHP) is conducting a county-wide inventory of important natural areas in Chatham County. A natural heritage natural area is an area of land or water important for the preservation of North Carolina’s biodiversity, and is a target of conservation action. Natural areas designated by the NCNHP include examples of high quality natural communities, rare species occurrences, and other special habitats.

This inventory will be an update to the original Inventory of Natural Areas and Wildlife Habitats in Chatham County, NC, published in 1992. In partnership with the Chatham County Planning Department and Triangle Land Conservancy, NCNHP staff will begin land surveys in Spring 2024 and expects to release a report on the findings in Summer 2025.

A natural areas inventory is a systematic search for the best examples of natural habitat in the county. Biologists conducting the inventory pay special attention to the status of native plant and animal populations in natural areas. This documentation allows planners to set conservation goals, and priority for conservation is assigned to populations of threatened and endangered species, rare natural communities, or high quality natural communities. Ultimately the inventory is used to prioritize natural areas for conservation and establish nature preserves for future generations.

Chatham County currently has 54 sites identified as NHP natural areas. This number is likely to change after the new inventory is completed.

Features of Established Chatham County Natural Areas:

  • Sites with unusual topography: upland hilltops, steep ravines and bluffs; e.g.,  White Pines Nature Preserve
  • Streamside and riverine communities: aquatic habitats, bottomlands, levees, pools; e.g., Rocky, Deep, and Haw Rivers
  • Sites with unusual soil chemistry or texture: e.g., Ore Hill Natural Area, Donnelley Hardpan Bog Natural Area
  • Major wildlife areas: e.g., Natural Areas around Jordan Lake, Big Woods Road Upland Forest Natural Area

The NCNHP requires landowner permission to access properties, so not every place in the county has been evaluated for natural areas. Before the land surveys can begin in the spring we need to identify natural areas to inventory. This involves getting feedback from Chatham County landowners and other stakeholders to identify high priority areas and new properties that might qualify.

Brandon Dawson, Conservation & Resiliency Coordinator for Chatham County, worked with the NCNHP and Triangle Land Conservancy to develop a feedback survey to seek input from the Chatham community to help prioritize the geographic focus of the inventory and encourage participation from landowners interested in having their property surveyed for rare species and important habitat.

Merry Conlin, Special Projects Botanist with the NCNHP, will take the lead on conducting the plant inventory fieldwork in the county, starting this March with the emergence of the spring ephemerals and continuing all year through the fall (the NC Wildlife Resources Commission will be coordinating with the NHP to conduct animal surveys). In addition to surveying the representative features described above, Merry will also record observations on native plant populations.

The Natural Heritage Program Rare Plant List contains information about plant species that have a state or federal legal status or are considered rare or uncommon in the state by the NCNHP. The rare plants in North Carolina are monitored (or tracked) in the Natural Heritage database. The plants listed below are tracked in Chatham County; if you know a site that contains one or more of these species, please fill out the survey and let them know!

Chatham County Tracked Species

  • Baptisia albescens  – thin-pod white wild indigo
  • Cardamine douglassii  – Douglass’s bittercress
  • Carex crus-corvi  – crowfoot sedge
  • Collinsonia tuberosa  – piedmont horsebalm
  • Dichanthelium annulum  – ringed witch grass
  • Dirca palustris  – leatherwood
  • Enemion biternatum  – eastern false rue anemone
  • Eupatorium altissimum  – tall boneset
  • Eurybia spectabilis  – showy aster
  • Fothergilla major – large witch-alder
  • Gillenia stipulata  – Indian physic
  • Hexastylis lewisii  – Lewis’s heartleaf
  • Isoetes virginica  – Virginia quillwort
  • Juncus brachycarpus  – whiteroot rush
  • Krigia biflora ssp. biflora  – two-flower dwarf-dandelion
  • Leersia lenticularis  – catchfly cutgrass
  • Lemna minor  – common duckweed
  • Lindera subcoriacea  – bog spicebush
  • Monotropsis odorata  – sweet pinesap
  • Paspalum fluitans  – horsetail crown grass
  • Phacelia covillei  – buttercup phacelia
  • Ptilimnium nodosum  – harperella
  • Quercus muehlenbergii  – Chinquapin oak
  • Quercus palustris  – pin oak
  • Scutellaria nervosa – veined skullcap
  • Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata  – heartleaf skullcap
  • Thermopsis mollis  – Appalachian golden-banner
  • Trifolium reflexum  – buffalo clover

If you’d like to offer your input, and/or if you are a landowner interested in learning more about having your property included, please fill out the following survey by Friday, February 16, 2024. The survey is also available in Spanish.

If you have questions about the survey please contact brandon.dawson@chathamcountync.gov.

Four-toed salamander, a species of special concern in North Carolina. Four-toed salamanders are a focal species for headwater streams and wetlands and the surrounding upland forests on which they depend. Photo by Jeff Beane, North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences.

Resources for Further Learning:

North Carolina Natural Heritage Program

Inventory of Natural Areas and Wildlife Habitats in Chatham County, NC – 1992

NC Natural Heritage Program Data Explorer
interactive access to maps of Natural Heritage resources in NC

NC Natural Heritage Program Species/Community Search
can do a county search to look at lists of rare plants and animals, natural communities, and important animal assemblages tracked by the NHP

Contribute to the NHP Database
share information about rare species, natural communities, or priority conservation areas

Chatham Conservation Viewer
interactive access to conservation data and maps specific to Chatham County 

NC Biodiversity Project