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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

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Applying to use NRS Research Natural Areas


USDA Forest Service
Eastern Region / Northern Research Station

Information and Instructions

Research Natural Areas (RNAs) are established by the USDA Forest Service as representative examples of minimally disturbed natural ecosystems for non-manipulative research activities, monitoring, and the protection of biological diversity. The Forest Service encourages research in RNAs. Research on RNAs has the potential for improving the understanding of ecosystems and the management of public lands. The Northern Research Station is willing to assist scientists with the approval process and, in some cases, other aspects of their research program. The purposes of an approval process for research on RNAs are:

  • To insure that the integrity of the RNA or other purpose for which the RNA was designated are not damaged by research or related activities.
  • To provide information to scientists about other research occurring on the RNA so that potential collaborations may be fostered and conflicts avoided.
  • To insure that protection and site integrity for the individual scientific study, especially permanent plots, are maintained.
  • To maintain records of research activities and research results to benefit the National Forest system and future researchers.
  • To meet Forest Service regulations as specified in the Forest Service Manual (FSM 4063.04 and FSM 4063.33)

In general, non-manipulative research that does not significantly impact the ecological composition, structure, or function of the area is appropriate for RNAs. The level of acceptable use varies by RNA, depending on the rarity of taxa, fragility or resilience of the ecosystems, and cumulative impacts of use.

All research use (including research by Forest Service scientists) of RNAs on National Forest System lands requires approval by the Station Director. This includes all Forest Service RNAs within the 20-state Eastern region. Applications for most small-scale studies will be approved by the Station Director. Where appropriate, a Station scientist may be assigned as liaison. When proposed research will involve several Research Natural Areas, only one research request form is required with an attached list with the name and location of each RNA.

In addition to Station Director approval, all proposed research on RNAs requires approval by the District Ranger on which the RNA is located. Special Use Permits may be required by Ranger Districts. For RNAs within Wilderness or other Congressionally designated areas, Regional Foresters have authority for approving research projects in coordination with Station Director.

As part of this research approval, the researcher agrees to notify the appropriate Ranger District office when field work is being conducted. In addition, plant and animal specimens collected during the course of the study will deposited in a herbarium or museum approved by the Station Director. Special permits are required for collection of any threatened, endangered, or sensitive species.

All research users of RNAs are expected to file a brief summary report with the NRS and the Ranger District when work is completed. This report may be in the form of a letter that outlines findings. To assist the Forest Service in compiling research information from RNAs, we also require copies of any publications or reports derived from research on RNAs for our files. It is important for the Forest Service to maintain cumulative records of all research activities on RNAs. These records help insure that the values for which the RNA was designated are being maintained, as well as providing the Forest Service with research results that are important for understanding ecosystem processes, long-term ecological change, and the sustainable management of public lands. In addition, scientific publications increase the value of RNAs and the commitment made to maintain them.

Please send this application and any other correspondence regarding research use of RNAs to the appropriate NRS Field Representative.

The appropriate sequence of approvals is a recommendation for approval from the District Ranger, the Forest RNA Coordinator, and the NRS Field Representative, then final approval by the Station Director. In some cases additional Station scientists may be consulted for recommendations. If the RNA is in Wilderness or other Congressionally designated area, approval may also be required from the Regional Forester.

The approval process can potentially be expedited, if needed, by contacting either: Christel Kern, NRS RNA Co-Coordinator, 715-362-1123 OR Sue Lietz, NRS RNA Co-Coordinator, 715-362-1142

The Northern Research Station appreciates your interest in the Forest Service’s Research Natural Area system, which includes more than 430 RNAs nationwide

To request an application to conduct research on a Northern Research Station / Eastern Region Research Natural Area, please contact the appropriate NRS Field Representative.

Last Modified: 09/26/2016