The New Jersey Legislature established the Natural Areas System in 1961 to provide special protection for state lands that remain in a natural condition, including areas that support rare species. The Legislature then added to these protections through additional legislation enacted in 1975, designating the initial lands comprising the System and prohibiting the lease, sale or exchange of System lands or consumption of resources without authorizing special legislation. The Natural Areas and Natural Areas System Acts created a kind of Noah’s Ark for species, and the ecologically significant natural features and ecosystems of the state. Today, the Natural Areas System comprises 44 designated natural areas encompassing over 40,000 acres, extending from the Dryden Kuser Natural Area in High Point State Park to Cape May Point Natural Area at the tip of Cape May peninsula. Natural Areas are open to the public for passive recreational use that does not compromise natural features and biodiversity resources of the site.
The lands designated to the Natural Areas System and a management objective for each are codified in the Natural Areas and Natural Areas System Rules at N.J.A.C. 7:5A-1.13.
GIS map tool of designated Natural Areas:
Natural Areas are specially designated portions of State Parks and Forests, Wildlife Management Areas and New Jersey Natural Lands Trust preserves that benefit from the higher degree of oversight and protection afforded by the Natural Areas and Natural Areas System Rules.
These rules provide guidance on how Natural Areas should be managed consistent with the two enabling statutes as well as a framework for all program activities and for responding to proposals for uses and projects within the boundaries of designated State Natural Areas. The rules include the requirements and processes for designation of new lands to the System, define the role of the Natural Areas Council, outline the process for creating Natural Area management plans as well as the content of these plans, provide guidelines for allowable activities and uses in Natural Areas that are not managed in accordance with an approved management plan, and specify procedures for conducting research. Further, the existence of all designated State Natural Areas and a management objective for each is codified in these rules at N.J.A.C. 7:5A-1.13.
The Natural Areas Council is a seven-member board appointed by the Governor that advises the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, or the Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources, on all matters relating to the administration of the Natural Areas and Natural Areas System Acts. The advisory functions of the Council include, but are not limited to: recommending sites for listing on the Register of Natural Areas; recommending the designation of all or portions of Register sites to the Natural Areas System; reviewing and recommending the adoption of management plans; reviewing and amending the Natural Areas System Rules; and recommending the acquisition of lands for future Natural Areas designation.
Six members of the seven-member board are appointed by the Governor; the administrative head of the Office of Natural Lands Management, Division of Parks and Forestry, serves ex officio as secretary. Appointed members serve for terms of three years and must be either professional naturalists or possess a demonstrated interest in the preservation of natural lands or wildlife.
The Register of Natural Areas is a list of sites approved by the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection which provides official recognition of the important natural features of each site which are worthy of preservation by the property owner as well as a list of sites from which to draw new areas for designation to the System. Register Site Summaries outline the natural resource features which qualify each site for listing. Listing on the Register does not, in itself, alter land use or ownership, nor does it impose any regulatory authority.