A systematic process for selecting representative research natural areas
Prioritizing sites as potential research natural areas (RNAs) to represent a set of target vegetation types can be a complex planning problem in which competing objectives, such as suitability and efficiency, must be satisfied simultaneously. The current U.S. Forest Service manual contains guidelines on the desired qualities of RNAs but provides little in the way of a structured methodology for selection. We propose an explicit and repeatable generic process for selecting target vegetation types and potential RNAs to represent them. The process is based on a systematic description of vegetation and environmental variation in an ecoregion, analysis of patterns of vegetation and land ownership and management, and optimization of site selection based on both vegetation and environmental criteria. Detailed ground survey and administrative review as currently practiced are integrated into the process. An application to site RNAs representing four forest types on Los Padres National Forest on the central coast of California demonstrates key aspects of the process. This reserve selection process could also be readily adapted to similar regional conservation planning programs.