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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends
North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department

North Dakota's natural heritage

Missouri River Natural AreaIn 1975, the North Dakota Legislature passed the Nature Preserves Act (NDCC 55-11), which gives the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department the responsibility to set aside a system of natural areas and nature preserves for the benefit of North Dakota citizens. North Dakota is one of roughly thirty states that have a state-level nature preserve or natural area protection program.

Under this act, the department administers the following programs:


Nature preserves

The state currently has five designated state nature preserves. These areas have been formally dedicated and are owned either by various state agencies or by private groups such as The Nature Conservancy. Dedicated state nature preserves include:

  • Cross Ranch State Nature Preserve
    Managing agency: The Nature Conservancy, ph. 701-794-8741
    Location: 20 miles north of Mandan, Oliver County
  • Gunlogson State Nature Preserve
    Managing agency: ND Parks & Recreation Dept., ph. 701-265-4561
    Location: Icelandic State Park, Pembina County
  • Head of the Mountain State Nature Preserve
    Managing agency: ND Parks & Recreation Dept., ph. 701-328-5357
    Location: 9 miles southeast of Rutland, Sargent County
  • H.R. Morgan State Nature Preserve
    Managing agency: ND Game & Fish Dept., ph. 701-253-6483
    Location: 24 miles east northeast of Lisbon, Ransom & Richland Counties
  • Sentinel Butte State Nature Preserve
    Managing agency: ND Parks & Recreation Dept., ph. 701-328-5357
    Location: 3 miles south of Sentinel Butte, Golden Valley County

Natural Areas Registry

Natural Areas Registry Icon

The Natural Area designation means any area of land and/or water, whether in public or private ownership, which has unique natural features.

SpiderwortPublic or private landowners may enter into a non-binding agreement to protect their land through the Natural Areas Registry Program.This program notifies landowners of important natural features on their land and requests voluntary protection by the landowner. The landowner may enroll in the program and receives recognition and management advice from program staff. Approximately 50 sites have been successfully registered to date. Private landowners are not required to provide public access to their site.


Natural Heritage Inventory

Western Prairie Fringed Orchid Conservation

One of the major accomplishments of the program was the establishment of the Natural Heritage Inventory. The main purpose of the inventory is to identify North Dakota’s natural features and establish priorities for their protection. Since the inventory’s inception in 1981, over 5,000 records of important species and habitats have been identified and catalogued.

Information from the Heritage Inventory has been used to identify high quality natural areas and potential nature preserves. A dedicated preserve, like those listed above, has covenants placed on the land that protect the important natural features.


The program also works with other agencies to increase protection for high priority natural areas that are not dedicated nature preserves, but contain important features. Over the past 25 years, the program has collaborated with numerous federal and state agencies, as well as private conservation groups, and private landowners to identify and conserve our state’s resources.