The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program was created in 1981 by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The program grew considerably and more than 20 years later, in 2006, the staff at TNC moved to WPC employment and the program became a partnership between Pennsylvania’s wildlife management agencies (DCNR, PFBC, PGC) and WPC.
The agencies have responsibility for their specific groups of species and PNHP collects, manages, and provides information needed to best conserve all jurisdictional species as well as species which have no legal or legislatively mandated protection (e.g., terrestrial invertebrates). Over 50 people throughout the partner organizations are part of the program, with more than 40 being WPC employees. The program staff represents a diversity of expertise with biological field staff (botanists, zoologists, aquatic biologists, bryologist, herpetologists, ornithologists, community ecologists) working with information managers, GIS specialists, and program administrators to service the biodiversity information needs of the partnership and of the commonwealth.
PNHP is a member of an international natural heritage network of biological inventories operating in all 50 U.S. states, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In 1974, The Nature Conservancy helped to establish the first state natural heritage program. Using that model, the network grew and natural heritage programs became the leading source for information about rare and endangered species and threatened ecosystems. Today, the network includes over 80 natural heritage programs and conservation data centers throughout the Western Hemisphere. Most programs sit within state or provincial government agencies with roughly a dozen housed within universities or other NGOs. All heritage programs are connected through NatureServe, the network’s membership organization which was established in 1994.
Scientists and data managers within the NatureServe network use the same data collection, entry, and mapping procedures for species and communities of special concern. These procedures are continually refined as new technologies come available. Standardized methodology between the heritage programs enables scientists to monitor the status of species and natural communities from state, national, and global perspectives.