Who We Are

Arethusa bulbosa (dragon's mouth orchid) flower

The New York Natural Heritage Program is, by law, a program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) and is implemented as a partnership between NYS DEC and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). We are a sponsored program of ESF’s Department of Environmental Biology and are funded entirely by grants and contracts from state and federal agencies whose missions involve natural resource management and biodiversity conservation, and private organizations involved in land protection and stewardship. We operate as a satellite office of ESF, located within state agency offices in downtown Albany, NY.

Program History

The New York Natural Heritage Program was created in 1985 to identify the location and status of New York’s plants, animals, and ecological communities and provide this information to public agencies and scientific and educational institutions. We have grown over the years from a staff of four to more than 25 botanists, ecologists, zoologists, spatial analysts, database developers, and information managers who provide high-quality data, data products, and scientific expertise to hundreds of state, federal, and private partners in New York and beyond.


  • 1974: In response to a recognized need nationwide to keep track of locations of rare species and habitats, the first Natural Heritage Programs are established in South Carolina and Mississippi by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in collaboration with state partners.
  • 1983: A prototype Heritage Program begins in New York with two staff in Albany at the New State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) and two staff on Long Island.
  • 1985: New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) is formally established as a small group of staff (4) hired by The Nature Conservancy of New York under contract with NYS DEC. The program begins with a Director and Zoologist, Botanist, Ecologist, and Data Manager who worked out of NYS DEC’s Wildlife Resources Center in Delmar, NY.
  • 1990: NYNHP publishes New York’s first natural community classification “Ecological Communities of New York State.”
  • 1990: NYNHP moves its office from Delmar to the NYS Fish and Wildlife satellite office in Latham.
  • 1993: NYNHP is recognized in Environmental Conservation Law (ECL 11-0539) as a unit in NYS Department of Environmental Conservation that databases and analyzes rare species and natural communities for NYS and distributes the information to partners.
  • 1993: In collaboration with the NYS DEC Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources, NYNHP begins surveying and mapping all state Wildlife Management Areas. This project concludes in 1998.
  • 1997: NYNHP receives the Outstanding Program Award from the Association for Biodiversity Information.
  • 1997: NYNHP contracts with NYS DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program for a two-year Hudson River Biodiversity Inventory. This is the start of a strong long-standing partnership with the Estuary Program.
  • 1998: NYNHP undertakes a comprehensive inventory of State Parks under contract with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation which, at its conclusion, leading to a long-term partnership and hiring of scientists dedicated to monitoring rare species and natural communities across the state park system. This project marks the beginning of using on-screen digitizing with aerial imagery as base layers to create natural community polygons and maps.
  • 1998: NYNHP is a pilot adopter of Biotics, an ArcView-based spatial data management application for mapping Element Occurrences.
  • 2000: At the national level, oversight and coordination of the Natural Heritage Program Network is spun off from TNC into the Association for Biodiversity Information (later named NatureServe).
  • 2001: NYNHP moves its office from Latham to downtown in Albany, with the Division of Fish and Wildlife in NYS DEC’s Central Office.
  • 2001: NYNHP creates a desktop field observation database in Microsoft Access and handheld field data collection tools for NYNHP staff to use for data collection and storage.
  • 2003: NYNHP switches from a DOS-based database called the Biological Conservation Database (BCD) to an Oracle-based system. This new database application works directly with the ArcView-based spatial data management application Biotics.
  • 2003: NYNHP Named Outstanding Heritage Program by NatureServe.
  • 2004: First NYNHP Conservation Guides made available online with the support of NYS DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program.
  • 2004: NYNHP begins a long-term effort to evaluate and conduct surveys on all State Forest and Forest Preserve land in New York, totaling nearly 4 million acres. We continue to assist the NYS DEC with monitoring rare species and ecological communities on these lands.
  • 2005: First use NYNHP data to produce Species Distribution Models, enhancing our understanding of where species habitats occur on the landscape and enriching our support for conservation and management activity.
  • 2007: Under a contract with NYS DEC NYNHP adds capacity to create and manage a NYS Invasive Species Database and works with partners to develop an online, GIS-based iMapInvasives application that can be used to map locations of invasive species nationwide.
  • 2012: NYNHP moves from The Nature Conservancy to our current home in the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Department of Environmental and Forest Biology.
  • 2012: In collaboration with NYS DEC, NYNHP is awarded its first Wetland Program Development Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a wetland monitoring program in NYS and begins participating in EPA’s national wetland monitoring program, the National Wetlands Condition Assessment.
  • 2013: NYNHP adopts Biotics 5. This latest version from NatureServe is now a web-based database application with integrated map viewer and mapping functionality.
  • 2014: NYNHP receives NatureServe’s Conservation Impact Award.
  • 2014: NYNHP and NYS DEC Division of Marine Resources establish a Marine component to the NY’s Natural Heritage Program, adding two zoologists who specialize in Marine systems and assist agency staff with monitoring and databasing marine rare species and ecosystems.
  • 2020: NYNHP participates in NatureServe’s Map of Biodiversity Importance (MoBI) project which identifies areas critical to protecting at-risk species nationwide. Our scientists assist with the development of habitat models for over 2,200 species. The project is supported by TNC, ESRI, and Microsoft’s AI for Earth Program.

Jan. 11, 2021 | Updated Feb. 8, 2021, 6:25 p.m.