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Natural Heritage Inventory program

methodology and database

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The three main objectives of the Natural Heritage Inventory Program (NHI) are to: 1) Collect information on occurrences of rare plants and animals, high-quality natural communities and significant natural features in Wisconsin; 2) standardize this information, enter it into an electronic database; and 3) use this information to protect and manage rare species, natural communities and natural features.


The NHI program is part of an international network of natural heritage programs coordinated by NatureServe, a nonprofit organization. Network programs use a standard methodology for collecting, characterizing and managing data, making it possible to combine data at various scales to address local, state, regional and national issues. Programs focus on rare plant and animal species, native natural communities and geological features, along with important habitat and animal concentration areas, together referred to as "elements" of biodiversity. Elements tracked by the Wisconsin NHI program are found on the NHI Working List.

In general, NHI uses two approaches to inventorying biodiversity. The first approach focuses on locating occurrences of particular elements, for example, where monarchs are found in Wisconsin. The second approach focuses on assessing the components of a particular area, for example, what rare species occur within the Black River State Forest. The latter approach often employs a top-down analysis that begins with an assessment of the natural communities present and their relative quality and condition. This information is subsequently used to determine where different species-oriented surveys should be conducted. This second approach, commonly referred to as "coarse filter-fine filter," concentrates species inventory efforts on sites with the most suitable habitat or highest potential to find the targeted species. It also allows sites to be placed in a larger, landscape context for broader applications of ecosystem management principles.


The NHI map team consists of mapping specialists and data managers who work together to organize, standardize, map and store the element occurrence (EO) records. EO data come from various sources, including statewide inventories, NHI cooperators and partners at universities, nonprofit organizations, federal and state agencies, individuals, museums and herbaria, published literature and inventory reports submitted to the DNR. All records go through a quality assurance process as part of the standardized natural heritage methodology. The NHI Working List provides a list of the elements for which element occurrence data are tracked in the NHI database. NHI data are available to DNR staff via the NHI Portal and to external partners who have entered into a data license agreement via customized data sets or files and/or access to the Internet NHI Portal application