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New York Natural Heritage Program

NY Natural Heritage Program logo depicting a dragonfly on a shaded NYS background

Our mission is to facilitate conservation of New York's biodiversity by providing comprehensive information and scientific expertise on rare species and natural ecosystems to resource managers and other conservation partners.

Announcing New Online Rare Species Reporting Form

Our new online species reporting form is now available! We welcome your observations. Learn How You Can Contribute Data.

New Rare Animal Status List

Rare Animal List (PDF) (533 KB, 27 pages) lists rare animal species actively inventoried by the NY Natural Heritage Program as of May 2014. This list includes legal protection status and rarity ranks. Also see the official NYS list of threatened, endangered, and special concern wildlife species.

Facilitating Conservation of New York's Biodiversity

photo of Northern Monk's-hood (Aconitum noveboracense)
NY supports 10 populations of the
federally listed Northern Monk's-hood
(Aconitum noveboracense). Photo by
Stephen M. Young.

The NY Natural Heritage Program is a partnership between the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Our mission is to facilitate conservation of rare animals, rare plants, and natural ecosystems, which we commonly refer to as "natural communities." We accomplish this mission by working collaboratively with partners inside and outside New York to support stewardship of New York's rare plants, rare animals, and significant natural communities, and to reduce the threat of invasive species to native ecosystems. We combine thorough field inventories, scientific analyses, expert interpretation, and comprehensive databases on New York's flora and fauna to deliver quality information to partners working in natural resource conservation. The end result of our actions will be more compatible management activities around our most imperiled species, ecosystems, and high-quality natural areas, in order to have significant and lasting effects on the preservation of New York's biodiversity. Our program was established in 1985 and is a contract unit housed within NYSDEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife, & Marine Resources. We are staffed by 25 scientists and specialists with expertise in ecology, zoology, botany, information management, and geographic information systems.

Building and Maintaining the Most Comprehensive Database on New York's Imperiled Biodiversity

photo of Russet-tipped clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus)
In partnership with NYSDEC and a large number
of experts and volunteers across the state, NY
Natural Heritage is compiling a statewide atlas of
dragonflies and damselflies. Russet-tipped clubtail
(Stylurus plagiatus) photo by Jesse W. Jaycox.

NY Natural Heritage maintains New York's most comprehensive database on the status and location of rare species and natural communities. We presently monitor 179 natural community types, 802 rare plant species, and 466 rare animal species across New York, keeping track of more than 12,800 locations where these species and communities are found. The database also includes detailed information on the relative rareness of each species and community, the quality of their occurrences, and descriptions of sites. The information is used by public agencies, the environmental conservation community, developers, and others to aid in land-use decisions. Our data are essential for prioritizing those species and communities in need of protection and for guiding land-use and land-management decisions where these species and communities exist.

Exploring New York, from Sea-level Salt Marshes to Alpine Meadows

Tug Hill Plateau mature beech-maple mesic forest

Globally rare inland Atlantic white ceder swamp in southeastern NY
NY Natural Heritage biologists work statewide
to document important elements of biodiversity,
as in this mature beech-maple mesic forest on the
Tug Hill Plateau (top) and globally rare inland
Atlantic white cedar swamp in southeastern NY
(bottom). Photos by Tim Howard.

In 1990, NY Natural Heritage published Ecological Communities of New York State, an all inclusive classification of natural and human-influenced communities. From 40,000-acre beech-maple mesic forests to 40-acre maritime beech forests, salt marshes to alpine meadows, our classification quickly became the primary source for natural community classification in New York and a fundamental reference for natural community classifications in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. This classification, which has been continually updated as we gather new field data, has also been incorporated into the National Vegetation Classification System that is being developed and refined by NatureServe, The Nature Conservancy, and Natural Heritage Programs throughout the United States (including New York).

NY Natural Heritage tracks the known locations of rare natural community types (such as inland Atlantic white cedar swamp in southeastern NY) and the state's best examples of common types (such as shrub swamps).

map of Western Hemisphere states, provinces, and countries with Natural Heritage Programs or Conservation Data Centres
Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data
Centres (shown in gold) work together throughout
the Western Hemisphere. Map by NatureServe.

Placing New York's Species and Ecosystems in Context - From Local to Global

NY Natural Heritage is an active participant in NatureServe - the international network of biodiversity data centers. There are currently Natural Heritage Programs in all 50 states and several interstate regions. There are also 21 Conservation Data Centers, the international equivalent of Natural Heritage Programs, in Canada, Latin America, and South America. These programs work with NatureServe to develop biodiversity data, maintain compatible standards for data management, and provide information about rare species and natural communities that is consistent across many geographic scales - from ¼-acre wetland sites to the North American continent.

NY Natural Heritage's collaboration with NatureServe and other states helps us put our information into a broader context. With NatureServe, we track the rarity of species and natural communities at global and state scales. This allows us to distinguish the conservation priority for plant with just a few populations in the world with another plant with a few populations in New York but many populations elsewhere. We can also pool our data to look across state and international lines. For example, New York data on rare species and natural communities along Lake Ontario have been combined with similar data from Canada to facilitate analyses of potential consequences of lake-level changes. Our information is also being combined with data from neighboring states to help us understand the significance of our best biodiversity sites relative to similar systems in southeastern Canada, New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and other Great Lakes states.

Assessing New York's Biodiversity

NY Natural Heritage data provide a picture of the status of biodiversity in New York. The graph at left represents all 2,863 vascular plants, natural communities, and vertebrate animals native to New York State. It does not include data regarding invertebrate animals. Although NY Natural Heritage tracks several invertebrate groups (notably butterflies and moths, dragonflies and damselflies, beetles, and mollusks), insufficient data are available to make general statements about the status of native invertebrate species. In the graph, New York's biodiversity is separated into six categories as described below.

Pie graph of NY's biodiversity status
Half of New York's biodiversity appears to be secure, but 37%
of the state's native plants, vertebrate animals, and ecosystems
are in jeopardy of extirpation, and 7% may have been lost already.

Presumed extirpated - 4%: All known occurrences are gone and there is little chance of finding new populations.

Historical - 3%: No occurrences have been reported in the last 15 years, but more survey work is needed. These may still be present within NY or they may be extirpated.

Critically imperiled - 15%: Known at five or fewer locations in the state.

Imperiled - 10%: Known at just six to 20 locations.

Vulnerable - 12%: Known at 21 to 100 locations.

Believed Secure - 56%: Known at more than 100 sites.

Data Coverage:

The New York Natural Heritage Program surveys and monitors rare animals, rare plants, and significant ecological communities throughout the state. Animals include rare species of all vertebrate groups and selected rare species from the invertebrate groups of butterflies and moths, beetles, dragonflies and damselflies, mayflies, crayfish, land snails, and freshwater mussels. In addition, the program collects data on significant animal concentration areas, including bat hibernacula, anadromous fish, waterfowl, raptors, and nesting areas of terns, herons, and gulls. All rare flowering plants, ferns and fern allies are actively surveyed and monitored. A rare moss list has been developed but the program does not have an active survey program for mosses. Significant ecological communities surveyed include all rare ecological communities as well as the best examples of common communities.

NY Nature Explorer Provides Natural Heritage Information Online

New York Nature Explorer is an online tool for finding out about the animals, plants, and habitats in your neighborhood or area of interest. Users may choose a county, town, or watershed, or may specify their own location on a map, and receive a list of the animals, plants, and natural communities that have been found there. Users may also choose a specific animal, plant, or natural community type, and get a list of the counties, towns, or watersheds where it has been found.

Included in Nature Explorer are the rare plants, rare animals, and significant natural communities (such as forests, wetlands, and other habitat types) documented by the Natural Heritage database; birds documented during the second NYS Breeding Bird Atlas from 2000 to 2005; and reptiles and amphibians documented during the NYS Herp Atlas from 1990 to 1999.

New York Nature Explorer is a gateway to biodiversity information intended for landowners, land managers, citizens, municipal officials, planners, consultants, project developers, researchers, students, and anyone else interested in the natural world.

The lists generated by NY Nature Explorer can:

  • Help provide a better understanding of the diversity of life in New York and in your area.
  • Serve as a resource to better inform land use decisions, natural resource management, biodiversity conservation, and environmental assessment.
  • Offer an initial indication of possible rare and protected animals and plants in the vicinity for those involved in the planning or permitting of a project or action.

Environmental Resource Mapper Displays NY Natural Heritage Data

The Environmental Resource Mapper is an interactive mapping application that can show you the general areas where rare animals, rare plants, and rare and significant natural communities (such as forests, wetlands, and other habitat types) have been documented by the NY Natural Heritage Program. The Environmental Resource Mapper also displays locations of New York regulated freshwater wetlands and of protected streams, rivers, and lakes. These maps are intended as one source of information for landowners, land managers, citizens, local officials, and project sponsors engaged in land use decision making, conservation, or environmental assessment.How you can request data:

To obtain information on rare species and ecological communities in New York State, please submit an information request.

Conservation Links of Interest

Please find links to the below websites on the right column labeled: Links Leaving DEC's Website.

New York Natural Heritage Conservation Guides: Conservation guides are comprehensive fact sheets about individual rare species and natural community types that are designed to help land managers, decision-makers, planners, scientists, consultants, students, and the interested public better understand the biodiversity that characterizes New York. Conservation Guides include information on biology, identification, habitat, distribution, conservation, and management. Guides are completed for many of New York's rare species and natural community types, and more are continually being added to the Guides website.

NatureServe: NatureServe is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing knowledge to protect our natural world. Representing the Natural Heritage network, NatureServe helps protect our environment by improving public understanding of biodiversity and by developing essential information about rare and endangered plants and animals and threatened ecosystems.

Natural Heritage Network: Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data Centers are member programs of NatureServe and represent the largest ongoing effort in the western hemisphere to gather standardized data on endangered plants, animals, and ecosystems. The Programs and Centers are found in all 50 U.S. states, 10 Canadian provinces, and 12 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean.

NatureServe Explorer: A source for authoritative conservation information on more than 50,000 plants, animals, and ecological communities of the United States and Canada. NatureServe Explorer provides in-depth information on rare and endangered species, but also includes common plants and animals.

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry: ESF is the nation's oldest and most respected college dedicated solely to the study of the environment, developing renewable technologies and building a sustainable future. The ESF campus occupies 12 acres in Syracuse and 25,000 acres on its regional campuses throughout Central New York and the Adirondack Park. ESF has approximately 1,650 undergraduate students and 600 graduate students, and offers 24 undergraduate and 30 graduate degree programs. US News & World Report ranks ESF among the "Top 50 Public National Universities" and one of the top 50 "Great Schools at Great Prices". The New York Natural Heritage Program is a sponsored research program within ESF's Department of Environmental and Forest Biology.

The Nature Conservancy -- New York Office: The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is the world's leading private, international conservation group. TNC preserves habitats and species by saving the lands and waters they need to survive.


More about New York Natural Heritage Program :

  • Rare Plants - Botany staff keep track of the status of New York's rare flowering plants, conifers, ferns and fern allies, and mosses.
  • Rare Animals - Zoology staff survey rare animal species of all vertebrate groups (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) and selected rare species from the invertebrate groups of butterflies and moths, beetles, dragonflies and damselflies, mayflies, and freshwater bivalve mollusks. Zoology staff also collect data on significant animal concentration areas.
  • Ecological Communities - Ecology staff assess and delineate New York's natural communities which are variable assemblages of interacting plant and animal populations that share a common environment.
  • Request Natural Heritage Data - Instructions on how to request data from the New York Natural Heritage Program.
  • Contribute Data - To continue building a comprehensive, up-to-date database of information on the locations of rare species and ecological communities in New York State, we invite your contributions. The Rare Species Reporting Form is for first-hand observations in the field.
  • Directions to NY Natural Heritage - Directions, parking, and office building access information for visiting the New York Natural Heritage Program.
  • Staff - An e-mail directory and photo that identifies New York Natural Heritage Program staff.